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Feature


South of San Francisco sits Colma, a culturally stagnant town the youth pines to escape. Best friends Rodel, Billy, and Maribel have just exited High School, and find themselves apathetic in the face of the adult futures they were looking forward to their whole lives. All three friends struggle in life, love, and in the job force, brimming with so much angst they can’t help but sing.

Colma: The Musical
The problem with coming-of-age dramedy is that the sub-genre more or less began with Nicholas Ray’s Rebel without a Cause and ended early with Mike Nicholes’ The Graduate in 1967. Everything since has been scraping the same barrel for decades. I’ve more or less hated the genre ever since (yes, I’m the guy that didn’t like Garden State), with a few exceptions like Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost World and Wes Anderson’s Rushmore popping up every once and a long while.

I’m also not too fond of musicals, though not on principle, mostly just because so many of them just annoy me these days (anything written by Trey Parker being a big exception). So now you know where I’m coming from with this review. Colma: The Musical is a mix of one genre I consider nearly dead and another I rarely find effective, and it appears to have been made on about three bucks—yet somehow I found it undeniably entertaining.

A lot of similar, independent, ‘quirky’ comedies that fancy themselves witty are usually exercises in self-love, and mostly only exorcise the personal demons of their young creators (I’m looking at you, Garden State, you over-loved rapscallion of mediocrity). Colma stinks of the poor me young filmmaker syndrome (PMYFS), but is genuinely witty in parts, rather than simply maudlin in wholes. Writer H.P Mendoza and director Richard Wong are pretty good about moving their meandering non-plot along, and they effectively whip out a musical number or good joke when things get too slushy. It’s still overlong, and the second and third act conflicts come as no surprise, but it’s appealing overall, and that’s really all I could hope to expect.

Colma: The Musical
Aesthetically Colma looks pretty ‘independent’, a little flat, and the occasional theatric use of camera doesn’t impress (yes, fine, Garden State looked pretty good). There are some more than adequate set pieces during the musical numbers, most involving some undistinguished but effective choreography. Colma’s more ambitious than most Kevin Smith movies, but the use of scope aspect ratio isn’t going to trick anyone into thinking they’re watching a studio production.

The music and lyrics are assembled well, but the production is disappointing, and (in my opinion) too dependent on flat synth sound. If the production had only put up the cash for a few extra musicians playing a few more real instruments it might’ve added some much needed gloss and production value. The whole soundtrack sounds more like a very respectable demo tape than film score (I guess Garden State wins this round too, *shakes fist*). The performers have been criticized in other reviews for their relatively inexperienced vocal stylings, but that’s their charm—they sing well, but also like regular Colma residents. Or so I assume.

Colma: The Musical

Video


If the obviously autonomous nature of the film didn’t grab you with the amateur cast and crew, this sadly produced, yet anamorphically enhanced transfer will make things a bit more obvious. Colours are often weak and muddy, everything is too dark, and definition is very soft. The transfer practically exacts the effect of a zoomed non-anamorphic transfer. Compression artefacts are noticeable throughout, as are interlacing effects. This is far from the worst transfer I’ve ever seen, but it also does little to sell the feature to a discerning audience as professional.

Audio


In the day and age of high definition and 7.1 channels of overwhelming audio fury the best this disc can come up with is a pithy stereo soundtrack? Come on, I know it’s cheap and independent and all, but if we can remix Peter Jackson’s original indie into a semi-respectable 5.1 channels we should be able to add a little flair to this brand new feature. It’s a musical; the audio is really important! Anyway, the audio is respectable enough, especially considering the loooooo-fi nature of the score. The dialogue is a little flat, and sound effects have a twinge of echo.

Colma: The Musical

Extras


Director Richard Wong and writer/composer/lead actor H.P. Mendoza supply an informative and relatively consistent commentary track, which really helped me fill in the blanks considering I knew absolutely nothing about the film or the original stage version before the disc appeared on my doorstep. The commentators are heartfelt about their work, and good about pointing out both their strengths and weaknesses. My favourite bit is at the very end when Mendoza points out that the fog was not added in post, to which Wong replies “Nothing was added in post”.

The relatively bare little disc houses quite a few deleted minutes worth of deleted scenes, most of which fill out the characters, but would’ve diluted the narrative flow. There’s one entirely deleted song, and two extended songs as well, but mostly it’s character beat stuff. There are five scenes total, and every one is presented in finished anamorphic widescreen. Trailers for other Lionsgate releases complete the disc.

Colma: The Musical

Overall


Colma: The Musical was much better than I was expecting, which catchy songs and surprisingly witty dialogue, but it overstays its welcome a bit and is in great need of a final polish. It most likely goes down like gangbusters on the small stage, but it doesn’t quite work on the big screen (or in this case small screen). I recommend a check for the curious. I also recommend buying Cannibal: The Musical to everyone, that’s probably the most effective independent musical comedy anyone can be expected to ever make. Also, I have no idea who those butts on the DVD’s cover belong too.


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