January 01, 2008

MOVIES: Colma: The Musical (Richard Wong, 2006)

After a successful year on the festival circuit, Colma: The Musical had a very limited theatrical release last summer. It's now available on DVD, and you might find it worth a look.

Colma is a San Francisco suburb best known for its absurdly large number of cemeteries; the dead outnumber the living several times over in Colma. Our main characters are Billy (Jake Moreno), Rodel (H.P. Mendoza), and Maribel (L.A. Renigen), best friends and recent high school grads, still trying to figure out what to do with their lives, and all a bit shocked to find themselves missing the routine and structure of school. We spend one summer with these three, and as far as story, you're not going to see anything new. There will be arguments, relationships will change, and at least one will leave Colma for good by the end of the summer.

I don't want to oversell this movie. It is a first film, shot on a very low budget, with an inexperienced cast and crew. The acting and singing aren't always up to par, and there are a few scenes that drag on longer than they should. But Mendoza's songs are often clever -- the opening number, "Colma Stays," is a terrific, high-energy opener, and a drunken barroom song called "Goodbye Stupid" is lots of fun -- and there are moments of genuine beauty to be found here. A lovely ballad called "Deadwalking" finds Rodel and Maribel walking through one of Colma's many cemeteries as the ghosts of the dead waltz in the background; Billy is joined for his final song by a chorus that materializes from the city's notorious fog.

If there is perhaps more enthusiasm on display here than professional-level talent, well, enthusiasm isn't a bad thing, and there is also great joy and exuberance to be found. Colma may not be a great movie, but it's a tremendously resourceful one, and it's hard not to be touched by its sweetness and its passion.

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