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Colma: The Musical

RICHARD WONG: "There's something chemical about music and pictures. I always loved it ever since my dad introduced it to me and before I knew it wasn't cool."

Cool or not Wong has directed Colma: The Musical with college buddy H.P. Mendoza providing the script and songs.

Multi-talented H.P. Mendoza (Roadside Attractions)


H.P. MENDOZA:
"The fact that Colma does not lend itself to being a musical is the reason I did it."

What Mendoza has done is turn his fog shrouded, sleepy hometown into the backdrop for a musical about three recent high school grads trying to figure out what to do with their lives .

H.P. MENDOZA: "I wasn't trying to be ironic. It just felt kind of right because its about these three kids trying to get out and they are just full of energy, they want to get out but instead of leaving they're going to spend all that energy complaining about where they are."

CLIP Song "Colma stays land of cemeteries, car dealerships, and schools, there's nary a thing I haven't done in Colma..."

Mendoza taps into magic realism to spin his low budget coming of age tale.

H.P. MENDOZA: "We have a small film. That has nothing to do with budget. You can be as creative and as wild and magical as you want, so we figured why not have a bunch of people waltzing randomly in a graveyard behind someone who's singing his heart out to the screen. Let's do a real musical not ever apologize for it."

Richard Wong is equally unapologetic about the film's approach.

RICHARD WONG: "The music gave us some license to go a little surreal and go into the brain of these kids."

CLIP Song: "There's only one name on my mind"

RICHARD WONG: "Billy is singing about his girlfriend; he's in this surreal world and hes making everything way bigger than it is. Like she gives him this peck on the lips and suddenly he's in love with her. To try to convey this I thought we needed something in the background to talk about how everything is really big and extraordinary and amazing so luckily our producer Paul was an ex-gymnast. So how about do some cartwheels in the background."

The lyricism of the background contrasts with the realism of the foreground to deliver a refreshing and energetic take on teen angst. Mendoza says the production also got an adrenaline boost from shooting one number surreptitiously in the local mall.

CLIP Mall ambience as the song I was Happy begins.

H.P. MENDOZA: "We actually had our producer looking out for security guards and whenever he saw a security guard he would say 'Scramble,' and Rich would hide the camera and we would all run and pretend that we were shopping."

That guerrilla shooting style invests the films with a sense of fun. And that fun spills over into the silly way Mendoza has people sing mundane lines of dialogue.

CLIP Girl (singing): "Is this the bathroom?"

H.P. MENDOZA: "I thought to myself as I was writing this what a horrible thing to have to say 'Is this the bathroom?' 'Yes it is.' It's not that lyrical but I thought it would be funny to actually have that come out in a song."

Director Richard Wong prepping the car alarm number (Roadside Attractions)

There's also a drunken number after a party in which Mendozas character sets off a car alarm.

CLIP Car alarm song

H.P. MENDOZA: "My character, Rodel, jumps on the car and he uses the car alarm as a metronome. And sings it like Burt Bacharach would."

CLIP Sound of alarm shut off.

As with the recent Hairspray, Colma joyously celebrates the clunky yet endearing conventions of movie musicals.

CLIP Rodel: "I had fun getting drunk and singing show tunes on your car."

But unlike Hairspray , Wong and Mendoza invest their musical with characters that ring very true.

RICHARD WONG: "The number one thing I wanted to get across is that these relationships feel very real, the kids feel very real. Despite all the crazy things that happen in the movie people can still connect to these relationships."

Colma is all about contrasts -- bright energetic kids stuck in a dead-end town; old-fashioned musical conventions butting up against the real world; drab surroundings set to a dynamic score. All logic suggests that Colma: The Musical shouldnt work. But Wong and Mendoza make it work with an ease that probably comes from being young and not knowing any better. Colma works because the filmmakers believe it can and aren't listening to anyone who tells them otherwise. Take a visit to Colma , you won't regret it.

Companion viewing: West Side Story, Ghost World , Oliver! (they watched Oliver! before shooting the Goodbye Stupid number), Umbrellas of Cherbourg

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