Friday, September 28, 2012

Fag Hags Are People, Too: "Fruit Fly" (2010)

A few years ago, H.P. Mendoza wrote the charming "Colma: The Musical" about a trio of friends in a literal dead-end town in California. With this film, he takes the directorial reins as well, but spreads himself and the story too thin in the process.

Bethesda (the always lovely L.A. Renigen) arrives in San Francisco with a performance art piece and a dream. She grew up with her adoptive parents in Maryland, then moved to the Philippines to live with her aunt. Her birth father had died, and she searched for her birth mother without success, turning her experiences into a one-woman show that she posted clips from on YouTube (fourteen hits!), and now wants to perform. She must compete for theater space with the self-absorbed Gaz (a funny Christian Cagigal), and is accepted into a house of artists: Windham (Mike Curtis) is a set decorator, runaway Jacob (Aaron Zaragoza) sleeps in the sun room, and couple Sharon (Theresa Navarro) and Karen (E.S. Park) have been an item for all of two months.

Bethesda and Windham become fast friends, and Bethesda throws herself into the club scene, staggering home drunk more often than not. She tries to pursue a relationship with Gaz, as Windham also looks for love with Mark (writer/director/co-producer/editor/too many other things H.P. Mendoza). Through a series of songs and interesting plot twists, we really get invested in Bethesda's life until Mendoza pulls the rug out from underneath us.

There are no huge dance numbers in the film, which was shot guerilla-style on the streets of San Francisco (a fun DVD featurette chronicles this). The songs, written by Mendoza, are often clever and melodic, delivered with sincerity by a cast of unprofessional singers. Mark Del Lima adds some fanciful animation involving the SF skyline, which is great. It's frustrating that this entire project should have worked better than it did. (I originally credited this film's director of photography and "Colma: The Musical" director Richard Wong with the animation. I misread the end credits, and stand corrected).

Mendoza tosses in too many peripheral players. I don't use the term "supporting" because that is not their function. There is an entire cast of new friends at the club who add nothing to the plot. The same goes for Bethesda's other housemate, her aunt who calls everyday, a theater owner, and the landlord. Even Mendoza's own acting role- Mark- seems like an afterthought. For a ninety-four minute film, there are a lot of characters here who the viewer thinks 'I must remember who this is,' and then forgets anyway. The songs are good, I especially liked the generic club anthem that you can appreciate over the final credits, but did we really need two songs about fag hags? For every clever scene like the monologue about pointless monologues, we get stuck with scenes like the melodrama when Bethesda finds out about the theater space. I cannot give away too much about the ending, but I was disappointed with the way Mendoza played it. It is not an unhappy ending, or even ambiguous, but it left me cold.

Reading the credits, Mendoza is all over the place. He did everything. Maybe this added to the fact that "Fruit Fly" never comes together into a cohesive story and film. It has plenty of stylistic ingredients, but cannot find its own style. The giant cast tries, the production values are fantastic, and I realize small films like this call for the director to wear many hats, but the film is only mildly enjoyable and fitfully entertaining. Hopefully this is only a minor misstep in the talented Mendoza's film making career. (* * *) out of five stars.