Música (2024, dir. Rudy Mancuso)

by | Apr 4, 2024

Certificate: 12A

Running Time: 91 mins

UK Distributor: Prime Video

UK Release Date: 4 April 2024

WHO’S IN MÚSICA?

Rudy Mancuso, Camila Mendes, J.B. Smoove, Francesca Reale, Maria Mancuso, Gabriela Amerth, Josanna Vaz, Bia Borin, Anthony Ferrara

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Rudy Mancuso (director, writer, composer), Dan Lagana (writer), McG and Mary Viola (producers), Shane Hurlbut (cinematographer), Melissa Kent (editor)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

A young man (Mancuso) wrestles with the unstoppable music inside of his head…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON MÚSICA?

Synaesthesia, according to the official description given to authors John E. Harrison and Simon Baron-Cohen’s book on the subject, “is a condition in which a stimulus in one sensory modality automatically triggers a perceptual experience in another sensory modality.” For instance, where the rest of us only see colours, someone with synaesthesia may be able to smell them. Or perhaps someone with the condition might taste the leather of a sofa that they’re touching, and so on.

In the case of musician and online personality Rudy Mancuso, who has a diagnosis of synaesthesia, he makes it clear through his feature film debut Música that he can create compelling visuals out of everything he hears, and shows the world just how intricately and vividly his condition affects his ultimate worldview in a charming and often impeccably crafted romantic-comedy that trades formulaic subversion for a true sensory experience.

Mancuso directs, co-writes with Dan Lagana, and stars in Música as a fictional version of himself, who here is a Brazilian-American college student that’s stuck in a directionless life in Newark, New Jersey. He lives with his mother Maria (played by Rudy’s actual mother Maria Mancuso), who’s desperate for him to meet another Brazilian woman, while his White girlfriend Haley (Francesca Reale) has just broken up with him over his unfruitful ventures, including his performance of puppet concerts on the subway. Things begin to turn around when he meets Isabella (Camila Mendes), a beautiful young Brazilian-American fishmonger who, unlike his now-ex, has no desires to leave the Newark area that she proudly calls him. Though he and Isabella quickly hit it off, Rudy finds himself dealing once more with Haley, who’s decided to give him another chance, as well as what he actually wants to do with his life.

All the while, Rudy experiences an endless assault of rhythmic sounds from all directions, which in his head constantly creates a Stomp-like musical where people dance along to the improvised melodies created by everyday noises. Rudy’s synaesthesia is never mentioned by name, but filmmaker Mancuso instead allows the various fantasy sequences, represented through an aspect ratio shift to widescreen (a similar tactic to the one used in the recent Mean Girls movie musical) wherein dancers jump and tap along to some carefully timed choreography, to do all the talking.

These fantasies, which also include imagined conversations between Rudy and one of his puppets (a holdover from Mancuso’s YouTube series Awkward Puppets), and a standout one-shot montage involving multiple sets on a continuous soundstage, are where Mancuso’s lively vision comes into full force, as the filmmaker brings a passionate energy to each and every one of them that almost leaves the viewer breathless, all without losing the momentum or even becoming too repetitive.

When Música becomes much more of a traditional rom-com, one that so happens to stop every now and then for musical segments, Mancuso still manages to work well within the traditional formula. The premise is straightforward rom-com material – boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, boy’s ex comes back in to complicate things etc – and it carries many recognisable tropes, from the smooth-talking best friend character who dishes out questionable advice (here represented by J.B. Smoove’s food truck owner Anwar), to an awkward dinner with a love interest’s family, who in not-so-subtle fashion is figuratively and literally as White as can be.

The script plays it reasonably straight, but with a slight wink from within Mancuso’s directorial style, as if to signal its awareness of the familiar romantic-comedy pattern in ways that are not too dissimilar to last year’s equally stylish rom-com Rye Lane. Its execution of such typical beats as a restaurant back-and-forth that’s straight out of a sitcom, or a meaningful heart-to-heart with a parental figure later on, feels knowingly cheesy, but never to where it’s pointing out how trite it all is, and in fact seems celebratory of the warm feelings that such traditional storytelling methods provide for its audience.

That isn’t even mentioning the fact that Mancuso shares some great on-screen chemistry with co-star Camila Mendes (both of whom are apparently now a real-life couple after working together on this movie), which in turn makes their romantic connection all the more palatable. Both actors radiate charm aplenty amidst the conventional rom-com roles that they both play, and you feel not just their burning connection as the story progresses, but also the genuine intrigue that have for one another when it comes to their hidden talents and wider ambitions. Their romantic journey even takes a slightly unconventional turn towards the end, in a character-boosting emphasis on certain people’s needs to fix themselves before they can begin to consider caring for another person, which might end in a near-identical fashion to something like Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but still feels like an appropriate, even hopeful, place to end things on.

By no means does the film rewrite a single sentence of the rom-com rulebook, but that ultimately isn’t why Música exists. Mancuso, with his feature debut, is setting out to deliver a first-person account of his neurological condition, and he successfully conveys his synaesthesia through a lively and heavily cinematic experience for the senses (to where it’s almost a shame it’s debuting exclusively on streaming instead of cinemas). On top of that, it’s a charming and winning rom-com that’s formulaic to a near-fault, but effortlessly confident in its own musically-tinged style.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Música is a charming feature debut for filmmaker/star Rudy Mancuso, who conveys his synaesthesia through an engaging and impeccably crafted directorial style amidst a formulaic but engaging rom-com template.

Four of of five stars

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