Colma: The Musical

"Very Good"

Colma: The Musical Review


Colma: The Musical blazes a new trail for cinematic start-ups: the earnest, low-budget musical. Forget the massive, overdone blowout that is Chicago. Skip the made-for-Oscar, epic style of Dreamgirls. Hit the suburbs with this cast of three 18-year-olds and you'll find that a sharp, witty song doesn't need a $70 million budget to be thoroughly enjoyable.

Musical features are rare enough, but for a directorial debut -- a great one, at that -- it's practically unheard of. This oddity is the brainchild of songwriter/screenwriter/actor H.P. Mendoza and director Richard Wong, taking the idea for a single song and morphing it into a 100-minute feature that displays humor and maturity... and the occasional bumps of a first try.

The story focuses on a trio of buddies just two weeks out of high school: Billy (Jake Moreno), a straight-laced romantic with acting aspirations; Rodel (Mendoza), a closeted gay with a scathing sense of humor; and Maribel (L.A. Renigen), a party girl usually interested in getting laid. The three grew up in Colma, a pseudo-suburb of San Francisco, best known for its unusually high ratio of buried people to living residents.

This is the setting teen angst was made for. The opening musical number -- the catchy "Colma Stays" -- sets the vibe perfectly, as the three leads go about their business knowing that no matter how much changes, even within their sleepy town, nothing will ever change. And each must determine what they'll do about that now that the structure of high school is gone from their lives.

What begins as a fairly light, poppy comedy becomes appropriately denser as character issues emerge. And Mendoza's songs reflect and drive the narrative surprisingly well, as the music moves from easy indie to barroom shanty (in 3/4 time, no less) to a brooding ballad sung in a graveyard.

By the time it's apparent the friends' relationships must change, Mendoza and Wong have inched up the film's heart and sincerity without a false note of sappiness. As a writer, Mendoza can really create a story with balance and weight, whether he's creating dialogue or lyrics, and his contribution to Colma (acting as well) is the film's greatest revelation.

Colma's vocal performances range from strong to unpolished, but that really adds to the film's charm. I would've been disappointed if any of the film's leads belted out a complex, pitch-perfect song; it just wouldn't have fit their thoughts and, frankly, their characters' ages. Moreno sits in the higher octaves, like a whinier version of Blink-182, and Mendoza is close by, with some appealing harmonies. Renigen displays the most natural singing ability and is probably the easiest to listen to if you closed your eyes.

We're reminded of the actors' general inexperience during some dialogue -- in particular, Moreno hits his lines a little quickly and Mendoza smoothly balances him out -- but it's worth hanging in there, especially as the actors hit a stride late in the film. And there's the occasional unnecessarily immature lyric: Rodel has a fun time rhyming "blunt" with a word that pisses off any woman.

But compare this with other films about being a teen (even the good ones), and few match this level of happy, resourceful creativity and unforced diversity. Whether or not "Colma Stays," it'd be great if the few people who made Colma: The Musical could hang around.

Colma chameleon.



Colma: The Musical

Facts and Figures

Run time: 100 mins

In Theaters: Tuesday 21st March 2006

Distributed by: Roadside Attractions

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
Fresh: 27 Rotten: 3

IMDB: 6.5 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Richard Wong

Producer: Paul Kolsanoff, Richard Wong, Angel Vasquez

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