Last night I had the pleasure of seeing Fruit Fly the musical/comedy/drama by local filmmaker H.P. Mendoza. It follows the story of Bethesda, a Filipina performance artist, in a nuanced, charming portrayal by L.A. Renigen, who moves to San Francisco to try to stage a work-in-progress version of her one woman show. She moves into a communal house occupied by several other artists: Windham the gay designer who instantly befriends her, Jacob the angry young man with unspecified angst and artistic talent, Sharon and Karen, the lesbian couple – one’s an actress the other is a painter – and Tracy, the gruff but oddly charming landlord.
And the film is seriously fucking fantastic. I was alternately cracking up laughing, getting the songs stuck in my head and being moved by the surprisingly poignant, unvarnished moments peppered throughout the film. H.P. Mendoza managed to create a musical that doesn’t feel cliched or familiar, wryly comment on the gay world without seeming preachy or heavy handed, comment on the progress/gentrification of San Francisco with wit and visual smarts and create a film that is both thoroughly San Francisco and totally accessible to someone who has never set foot here. And he’s in the bloody thing too, as Mark, another gay guy who befriends Bethesda and who does a hilarious song with Windham called “We Have So Much In Common” that you have to see and hear to appreciate. Let’s just say it nails the gay dating/sex/pickup scene so perfectly and I will never be able to see the phrase “versatile bottom” without thinking of it and laughing my ass off.
It was so exciting and inspiring to see such a great film created by so many SF/Bay Area people. It was unpretentious, fresh and daring but with such an effortless, charming way about it that it never veered into some of the ham-handed territory that films that Try To Make a Statement often veer into. There’s plenty of scenes in the film – like a white gay telling Bethesda how she looks “just like Margaret Cho” or how often she’s referred to as a fag hag – that call out certain stereotypes or point out certain prejudiced behavior. But there’s never an overly chest-thumping, righteous moment of retribution where a character makes some big speech or delivers a political monologue. Because those things don’t happen in real life. And despite the movie being 80% sung, it feels very authentic and relatable. One thing that really impressed me is the way Mendoza is able to capture this certain lonely quality that San Francisco (and all cities, really) has. He never spells it out or has anyone say “This city makes me feel lonely”. But he manages to embody it visually in certain scenes in a way that really impressed me. But most of the time he just made me laugh and made me want to sing along to his catchy-ass songs.
It was also refreshing, in the wake of my recent post about the possible erasure of a character’s Asian identity from the upcoming Runaways film, to see a film that featured a number of Asian actors and actresses turning in a variety of roles, all of them eschewing the stereotypical qualities we often see when Asians are represented in films. And again, this never felt forced on Mendoza’s part. Just woven into the overall wonderful story, impressive visuals and those damned catchy songs. Seriously, go listen to the song samples on iTunes. And then buy the soundtrack! And see the film if it comes to your area – it’s going to be in NYC on September 24th. And, at the very least, check it out when it comes out on DVD and prepare to be surprised at how giddily delightful a little indie film can truly be. I can only hope that great things are in store for Fruit Fly and that we’ll soon get more from the fantastic mind of H.P. Mendoza.