Amerindie “Colma: The Musical” just gives the kids music they like and characters they can identify with, forgetting any grandiosity. “Colma” might be perilously local in origin, but this unexpected delight reps a less pretentious rock musical than “Hedvig,” with music just as good. Colma is famed in the Bay Area as the place where space-starved San Franciscans have buried their loved ones for generations. Typical this-is-so-nowhere complaints of bored youth ring truer than usual here, but area-specific emphasis could trouble potential distribs.
Opening plaint “Colma Stays” (“like rigor mortis”) jumps out of the box like Christmas. Split-screen tactics cleverly used throughout introduce principals Billy (Jake Moreno), Rodel (composer-lyricist-scenarist H.P. Mendoza) and Maribel (L.A. Renigen) as each marches unimpressed through their “Deadsville U.S.A.” hometown. Bouncy pop-rock evoking both ’80s New Wavers (especially They Might Be Giants) and ’70s pure-poppers (Raspberries, etc.), the tune has clever lyrics, close harmonies and vocalists who mercifully don’t sound “American Idol”-bound.
All three best friends have recently graduated from high school; none knows quite what to do next. Billy at least has some leads: A hopeful actor, he scores a part in a local play as well as a men’s store day-job under weird boss Kevin (Paul Kolsanoff). These responsibilities eventually conflict, albeit not before Billy has acquired a new girlfriend in fellow cast member Tara (Sigrid Sutter).
Unfortunately. she soon joins the ranks of people fatigued by his endless dwelling on the prior g.f. who done him wrong (Kat Kniesel). Maribel and Rodel are also nursing romantic wounds, but extrovert Maribel is still game.
Shifting dynamics between principals occur between some 13 songs and several hilarious set pieces. Pic’s momentum slows in the second half, as the giddy mood turns melancholy and the thin plot’s bones peek through. Yet perfs are so likeable, their characters so simply and credibly sketched, that rooting interest remains high.
First-time feature helmer Richard Wong surpasses expectations for a homegrown project — “Colma” has a fresher look and feel than many a big-budget studio production. As blocking director, d.p. and editor alike, Wong has a firm grip on visual musicality, one not at all compromised by choreography kept elemental enough for a cast of non-dancers.
Tech aspects are sharp, design contribs ditto — though the location-shot pic doesn’t even claim to have a production designer.