Colma: The Musical
SAN FRANCISCO -- Colma, a suburb south of the city best known for its ubiquitous cemeteries, ever-present fog and the end of the subway line, is the improbable setting for San Francisco filmmakers Richard Wong and H.P. Mendoza's exuberant, wistful, coming-of-age musical, "Colma: The Musical." Made for a song ($15,000, though it looks appreciably more expensive) and a little rough around the edges, this likable movie is filled with adolescent angst, youthful energy and hope.
Fresher and more original than bloated Hollywood musical fiascos like "Rent," "Colma's" fine singing, sweet harmonies and snappy, sometimes poignant pop tunes and lyrics by Mendoza -- who also wrote the screenplay -- are set to an immensely appealing rock score that, once heard, is difficult to get out of your head.
The film, whose "what will I do when I leave home" theme should resonate with young audiences, has generated local interest. Even if that excitement extends beyond the Bay Area, boxoffice likely will be modest. After its June 22 debut here, the film moves to New York today and Los Angeles in August.
The brisk, five-chapter narrative opens with an ode to the dubious virtues of Colma, sung by three high school friends who have just graduated and find themselves on the cusp of adulthood: Rodel (Mendoza), a troubled gay teen and blossoming artiste, whose sexuality is unacceptable to his parents; Billy (Jake Moreno), an aspiring thespian and a clod in the relationship department; and the carnal Maribel (L.A. Renigen, making the most of a flashy role and a rich voice), who has a bit of the felon in her but, despite tough talk, won't make it out of the neighborhood.
In song and seen on split screen or together as they move through their daily lives, the characters obsess about an uncertain future, fret about the inadequate present and yearn for something more that possibly awaits them in the wider world. "Colma" is set during a time in life when parents are seen as obstacles, especially if you're still living at home, and major preoccupations, aside from pervasive anxiety, are partying and whether or not you're cool enough.
Wong, in a sure-handed, promising directing debut -- he also edited and produced -- has shot a remarkably stylish movie given his budget constraints and elicited spirited performances. The actors are more expressive though when singing than reciting the amateurish dialogue, which occasionally is marred by gratuitous crudity.