‘Música’ Review: What He Hears Is What We Get

by The Technical Blogs


The artist Rudy Mancuso has a prolific career that’s hard to define. He sings, shoots puppet skits and films wistful live action shorts set to his own piano tunes. Mancuso uploads most of his output online; however, he opened for Justin Bieber in Brazil, where he once lived. “Música,” Mancuso’s phenomenal feature debut, is a comic trip inside a mind that’s forever feverishly creating — even against his will. In the first scene, Rudy (Mancuso), his semi-autobiographical lead, gets dumped at a diner because his synesthesia won’t allow him to focus on a serious talk about the future. His brain can’t ignore a knife chopping, a broom sweeping, a spatula clanking. The percussion swells, the clatter harmonizes and his romance collapses, leaving Rudy alone in his bedroom with a lamp attached to — oh dear — a Clapper.

Mancuso crams all of his passions into the movie, including the puppets (which, with his cartoonish coif, he resembles). He’s playing a character who is occasionally too passive. Yet, he’s made a film that’s confidently, intentionally overwhelming. In Newark, where the movie is set, there’s always life, noise, inspiration banging away in the background. Rudy can’t control his distractions, but he can conduct the cacophony. An interlude involving a boisterous park of people playing checkers, basketball and double Dutch lets him do just that.

As balance, the script, written by Mancuso and Dan Lagana, is a tidy coming-of-age tale. Rudy bounces between the needs of three women: his college girlfriend, Haley (Francesca Reale), a charismatic fishmonger named Isabella (Camila Mendes) and his bossy Brazilian mother, Maria (played by his real mother, Maria Mancuso), who turns their living room into a singles bar for potential daughters-in-law. (She serves caipirinhas with paper umbrellas.) Occasionally, Rudy ventures out for advice from a shawarma truck operator (J.B. Smoove), who, when drunk, acts like a trickster sprite.

Mancuso, 32, is part of a digital generation that treated the internet like a self-taught film school. Eyeballs were his pass/fail grade. A low-budget, high-imagination director, he’s learned to delight viewers with practical effects and sharp physical timing, citing Charlie Chaplin as his inspiration. (Come to think of it, they have the same hair, too.)

“Música” eases us into his style when the tines of a fork turn into a musical score. Once we’re aboard, Mancuso and his skilled team — the editor Melissa Kent, the cinematographer Shane Hurlbut, the production designer Patrick Sullivan and the art director Gonzalo Cordoba — use visual stunts to put our attention on the act of creation. Several in-camera shots are so clever you’ll immediately want to watch them again.

The technical showstopper is a single-take spin through Rudy’s attempt to date both Haley and Isabella simultaneously. The camera stays with the two-timer through a cavernous space where rolling sets, painted backdrops and other actors waltz in and out of the frame. After that, there’s a less flashy, more emotionally grueling 10-minute restaurant sequence that wears everyone out, on-screen and off. Yet the film also honors small acts of ingenuity, including song fragments that quit after a stanza. While the ending feels similarly incomplete, perhaps that fits a young talent bubbling over with so much invention that he can’t predict what’s next.

Rated PG-13 for suggestive references and strong (sometimes crooned) language. Running time: 1 hour 31 minutes. Watch on Prime Video.


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