Ever heard of Colma? Population 1.5 million; only 1,191 alive. With stats like that, Colma is literally Deadsville, USA. And that’s the backdrop for… a musical? Indeed — one that I didn’t want to end. And I hate musicals.
Rich Wong’s Colma: The Musical sometimes feels like a student film. But that’s precisely what makes it awesome. Shot on a shoestring, it opens with a lo-fi number featuring cheesy keyboards and the not-so-steady cam. Minutes in, though, you can’t help but submit to its slacker charm. The characters (Billy, Rodel, Maribel) don’t feel so much written as playing themselves. There’s something about the understated charm of characters who fall so far outside Hollywood stereotype that they feel like someone you know. And their post high-school doldrums are immediately relatable. It might be a little angsty, but it also feels real.
It’s the kind of film that’ll set a musical number to the obnoxious pulsing of a car alarm (“car alarm karaoke”) and in the next instant features some truly thoughtful discussion of what it means to have graduated high school fully expecting the rest of your life to be spelled out only to discover you are more lost than ever, in a dead-end suburb — able to see the skyscrapers of San Francisco, but feeling so far away from anywhere. It’s at once cynical and giddy. And poetic when you least expect it.
While most of the songs will stick in your head for weeks (H.P. Mendoza rocks!), a couple fall flat. And not every subplot quite flies, either. But it’s just that imperfection that makes Colma work. The filmmakers seem, in some ways, to be in the same quandary as the characters: showing flashes of brilliance, falling down, finding their way back, singing their lungs out. And their songs hit home more than most because they clearly come from someplace genuine. How many movie musicals can say that?
Colma comes out of nowhere and will have you smiling for weeks. It’s clear that Mendoza and Wong are at just the beginning of very promising careers. L.A. Renigen (Maribel) is quite a find as well. As much as the movie is about leaving Colma, I didn’t want to.