I loved the earnestness in the new movie version of the 1996 Broadway musical Rent. These musicals demand suspension of disbelief. You have to accept that when someone wants to pick up a girl, he'll break into song, that when someone wants to bemoan losing a friend, she'll break into song. Once you accept this phenomenon, songs begin to seem like remarkably economical ways to express your feelings. Through song, I got to know each of the seven main characters, to a degree that dialog never would have given me access. Songs, like poems, are concise and pointed. Maybe next time I need to get something across I'll give it a melody.
Rent takes place in the bad olds days of AIDS and squatters in Alphabet City. When I saw the play, I thought, now here's _not_ Miss Saigon. Here's a play I can relate to, about _my_ city. My mother drilled the fear of AIDS into me constantly, so to see a play on the disease and undergo the play's catharsis offered me relief. Certainly some of the pleasure I derived from seeing the movie was in remembering my own "bohemian" period in NY.
It's true that many of the ditties are too slight, but the full ones rise to the level of greatness. My three favorites are "Seasons of Love," "Another Day," and "Light My Candle." Mr. Right thinks some of the rock-driven songs are Spinal Tap-bad, and I agree. But I don't fault the musical for being sentimental. I resent A.O. Scott's review, in the sense he keeps establishing his hipster credentials with hedges such as "I thought I was too cynical for this, but" or "usually I hate this kind of stuff, but." Is it so wrong to like this kind of stuff? Does it mean I'm not smart?
One time I was at a party and the host asked if I had any musical requests. "Billy Joel," I said. I was sort of half-joking, but sort of not. (Partly because 9/11 had just happened and I was playing "New York State of Mind" over and over.) Needless to say the host recoiled in horror. Lighten up.