“Fruit Fly” Review – 2009 Asian American International Film Festival

The film musical “Fruit Fly,” the closing presentation of the 2009 Asian-American International Film Festival, reunites the team (H.P. Mendoza, Richard Wong and L.A. Renigen) that created the very funny “Colma: The Musical.” This time, Mendoza doubled as writer and director, while Wong served as cinematographer. It tells the story of a Filipina performance artist named Bethesda (Renigen), who comes to San Francisco to put on a one-woman show. When the theater rejects her proposal, she is forced to rethink her career options and comes to the realization that life is a “work-in-progress.”

There are wonderful moments in “Fruit Fly.” A particular highlight is the song “Fag Hag,” sung when Bethesda first goes to a gay bar with her roommate Wyndham (Mike Curtis) and the bar-goers decide to put that label on her. Also memorable are “Public Transit” (a comic song that all present and former San Francisco residents can relate to), “We Are the Hag” (a stylized dance number sung by the three resident fag hags at the bar), the deadpan speeches by the landlord Terry (Don Wood), and a transition scene where the San Francisco skyline becomes a Tetris game (kudos to Mark Del Lima who created the animation segments).

Overall, however, the film is a little flat. While the plot focuses on Bethesda’s “coming of age,” it is not clear what she has really learned. From the beginning, she expresses doubts about her abilities as an artist, given the fact that she keeps revising her one and only autobiographical show. It demonstrates that her life – whether she knows it or not – is already and literally a work-in-progress. It does not help that the extended reflective songs at the end, “Workshop” and “Work in Progress,” contain rather trite lyrics. Moreover, the secondary characters, some of whom can be quite interesting, are underdeveloped. In the end, Mendoza’s desire to fit as many songs in the film led him to sacrifice elements that would have gripped his audience and made them care about the potentially interesting characters. One hopes that “Fruit Fly” is currently just a work in progress itself, and that Mendoza will revise and re-edit the film before it is released in theaters and on DVD.

“Fruit Fly” was shown at the 2009 Asian-American International Film Festival.