Judge Brett Cullum is writing a rock musical about DVD reviewing.
New York's got New Jersey; San Francisco's got the place where Colma stays.
Colma: The Musical is about three recent high-school graduates stuck in the summer between grade school and college when you're confused about where to go, what to do, and who you are. Rodel (H.P. Mendoza, who also wrote the show and composed all the music), Billy (Jake Moreno), and Maribel (L.A. Renigen) live in a small town outside of San Francisco known for its abundance of graveyards. They long to escape the constraints of their geographic misfortune, but also desperately cling to each other as they transition from childhood to more adult issues. The trio all have secret crushes on each other, with both Maribel and Rodel fixating on Billy, who has found he is attracted to a blonde actress in a show he is rehearsing. The gang hangs out with each other, drinks a lot of beer, gets crappy mall jobs, sneaks into college parties, and sings and dances its way through graveyards and hills. It's a gentle high-school version of Rent, a less edgy Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and a more realistic High School Musical.
Colma: The Musical was conceived for the stage, and there's no mistaking its quaint aspirations and theatrical sense. The film has a lot of passion and energy, but it suffers from being far too long and repetitious. The songs all sound the same and the well-drawn characters are going nowhere fast. Colma: The Musical paints a realistic portrait of teens simply because it's politically incorrect enough to show how horny and bored they really are, but it's not a revelation as much as a reassurance. The charms of this one will be most effective for high-school and college-age kids looking for a musical that'll confirm they're not as freakish as they think they are. The musical's strongest plot involves Rodel's reluctant coming out.
The strength of the movie lies in its love for the three main characters. Colma: The Musical excels at creating completely realized personalities that are well-acted by the first-time thespians featured. Shot on a dime with digital video cameras, the film does a great job of creating picturesque musical numbers that make full use of the widescreen format. There's ingenious use of split screens to bring characters and songs together as well as displaying the tortured feelings of the main characters. The music is influenced by pop and rock, and refreshingly not by American Idol's brand of over-singing. The numbers feel intimate and do a solid job of advancing character arcs. This is a promising work from first-time artists, and I'll be curious to see where they go next on the basis of this piece.
Where the film sags is it gets overburdened with a simple plot, and moves too slowly through it. The score is comprised of thirteen numbers, including a couple delivered in the fictional musical play that is put on, but it's hard to tell them apart from song to song. It's a quirky show that doesn't do much other than languish in the malaise of the leads. It hopes that is enough to keep you engaged for its 100-minute running time. Some of the inexperience shows in the acting and singing, but thankfully the musical are saved by the idea that these are teens, who often come off insincere in reality.
Lionsgate provides a strong DVD release for Colma: The Musical, complete with extras substantial enough to listen to. There's an engaging commentary with first-time director Richard Wong and first-time writer and actor H.P. Mendoza. They seem excited to get a chance to talk about the film, and they chat good-naturedly about how the project developed. Also included are a handful of deleted scenes, six sequences wisely cut in a film that could have excised a few more minutes. The transfer makes full use of the digital widescreen the film was shot in, and the images are clear and natural-looking. A simple stereo mix provides enough to make the dialogue clear and the music balanced.
It's a standard coming-of-age story set in a small California town with three characters trapped between high school and college. Colma: The Musical is 20 minutes too long and a bit repetitious musically, but has so much enthusiasm that it pulls everything off well enough to recommend. Lionsgate gives it great treatment, and it's worth a look if you're curious to see a rock musical about becoming an adult. It's a quirky flick about a strange time in everybody's life when things aren't very clear. If you're looking for an indie version of High School Musical with kids that seem more real, here's your answer. This gentle look at teenage angst is authentic thanks to a good dose of "go nowhere" mentality. Unfortunately some viewers will feel just as frustrated as the characters who can't leave Colma as they sit through the overly long bits, but that may be the point.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Director Richard Wong and Writer/Composer/Actor H.P. Mendoza
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