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STUDIO: TLA Releasing
RATED: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 94 minutes
• “Crew Fly” (behind the scenes featurette)
• Fruit Fly premiere featurette
• Textbook Guerilla
“I bet we can get more Asian, gay,* and middle-aged people into one 94-minute musical than there were in 13 seasons of Beverly Hills, 90210!”
L.A. Renigen, Mike Curtis, Theresa Navarro, Aaron Zaragoza, Director and versatile bottom: H.P. Mendoza
Special appearance by Feral Bloated Jake Busey
Bethesda (L.A. Renigen) is a Filipina performance artist (Filipina… from the Philippines, which makes me wonder why I can’t be called an Umerrican) who moves into an artist commune in San Francisco in order to refine her one-woman show about her struggle to learn about her biological mother, and spends her nights drinking herself into stupification with her gay roommates (biological mother hint #1: alcoholism is genetic).
You may ask yourself when Bethesda has time to work her day job, what business she has clubbing on her finite finances, and why we should feel all that badly for her given the caliber of our own problems. Keep asking yourself, because the movie Fruit Fly won’t give you any hints, but it will give you a lot of lethargic, chiptunesque musical numbers and a whole lot of conversation about being gay.*
Fruit Fly is an amiable movie and earnest effort, but not quite the infectious entertainment it aspires to be. There is nothing here that is laughably bad, but the production does come across as the project of a (gifted) hobbyist more so than a professional debut.
The first problem with the movie is its conceit that I should or could sympathize with five young people living in San Francisco who have no real jobs to speak of and no major problems beyond parental abandonment issues that should be well-past their shelf-date. If you are going to make a light-hearted LBGT-pandering* musical about a frustrated artist, you’ve unfortunately put yourself in direct competition with Hedwig and the Angry Inch (of which I am, full disclosure, a huge fan*), so you’d better bring some pain to your characters. “I didn’t know my real mommy” is not cutting it.
Fig. A: WASP. One of only several in this movie.
You go to war with the army you have. You go to your guerilla film set with your friends and local talent that will bring their own wardrobe and work for pizza. Vegan pizza, I’m guessing. The cast here is raw and uneven both musically and thespianically although Mike Curtis (as Bethesda’s bgff Windy) and Christian Cagigal (as sleazy performance artist Gaz Howard) are very welcome when they appear on screen. In most cases, sadly, the line delivery is amateurish and the songs seem to be sung with the trepidation of someone who doesn’t want the neighbors to hear them.
While they are generally catchy and clever (with the possible exception of Fag Hag, which isn’t nearly as edgy as it thinks it is, coming four decades after the song Colored Spade from Hair), the songs are also hamstrung by the fact that they are orchestrated on devices such as Tandy 1000’s and Commodore 64’s. That sounds like a mean-spirited joke, but look:
See? Next time just trust me.
The songs that will stick in your head will sound a lot better in your head than they did in the movie. Mendoza’s song-writing deserves better and Fruit Fly would have benefited greatly from some more robust instruments. Whether it was a stylistic choice or not, the choice of synthesizers make the music sound unprofessional and (new made-up word in 3… 2… 1…) Casionic.
As I mentioned, the movie is not without merit. I did find myself laughing a number of times during the movie, often due to Mendoza’s gift for editing pregnant pauses, wherein the movie demonstrates a wryness that isn’t always obvious. A filthy duet performed by Mike Curtis and H.P. Mendoza that lays bare the stipulations of their impending gay hookup is well-sold and entertaining.*
You never forget the first time you get the clap from a gay threesome.
Among a sampling of similarly-budgeted movies, this one looks above average. Some unpredictably fresh editing (also by Mendoza himself) was nice. One area in which the production does not seem limited is its judicious use of animation. The opening title sequence, some time-lapse photography and some very clever visual repurposing of the San Francisco skyline are fun to watch.
As it stands, almost ready for primetime, Fruit Fly feels like the “previous work” of a highly successful and popular H.P. Mendoza of the future. His completist fans will one day regard it well, but only after he’s knocked their pants off* with something more substantial.
Unless the special features are an Easter Egg, and the packaging was intentionally designed as Lo-Fi (a burned DVD-R in a paper sleeve), I believe I had a screener with just the film, so I can’t speak to the quality of the final product.
4.5 out of 10
*but I’m totally not gay. Totally hetero (and totally single, ladies?)