Suburban stasis - Page 2

Dead-end streets are fertile ground for the makers of Colma: The Musical

Their female cohort Maribel, the tart character who holds them together, plans to stay — though her motivations are self-deprecatingly ambiguous.

There is a genre of suburban films that usually involves teen suicide, superdepressed moms, or scary skeletons in the linen closet. If this were a Larry Clark film, the kids would be shooting up or shooting themselves. If it were a John Hughes picture, there'd be prom-related antics in the McMansion. In Colma, they sing their suburban sorrows. Wong suggests his film might be a regional music-theater production of a suburban drama, and it's a wacky idea that's far more satisfying than you might expect.

Mendoza, in a phone conversation, admits that he prefers films that have some empathy for tract-house dwellers. He feels that Napoleon Dynamite sneers at its characters. "I did not want that for this. I find Colma endearing," he says. "This is not an indictment — it is a locale. We're just portraying these kids saying it's boring." Mendoza lived in Colma during his high school years, moving there after growing up in the Mission. "At that time, all the Filipino families moved to Daly City so their kids could go to Westmoor High."

While it finds comedy in the notion of living in a generically small locale, the film exudes an affably focused sense of place. Mendoza tells me that his best friend in high school cited a particular Colma cul-de-sac as his favorite place because it had a great view of the mall. He reveals his own beloved spot, an underpass at the intersection of an up-and-coming Filipino street and a dicey neighborhood. On the sloped, stagelike hill, Mendoza and his pals would have water-balloon fights and — "This is so gay," he warns — reenact scenes from Little Shop of Horrors. Given his movie, that makes wonderful sense.

The image also fits the satisfying, hometown-boys-make-good narrative of the film's critical success. Since Colma: The Musical scored on the festival circuit, Wong has hooked up with the more seasoned director Wayne Wang, with whom he's currently working. Future collaborations with Mendoza are imminent, including a Colma sequel: Serramonte: The Musical. That narrative will follow, in song, Maribel's future in retail. As a career path, that may seem like a dead end, but for Wong and Mendoza, creating a movie about it affirms that their little town of graveyards is ripe with artistic joie de vivre.

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