Música isn't a musical — not in the traditional sense — but it isn't not a musical, either. Genre-wise, the movie, from YouTube star-turned-first-time filmmaker Rudy Mancuso, is hard to pin down. It isn't exclusively a non-musical musical or a rom-com or a coming-of-age story; it's all of the above, all at once. Which is exactly why Camila Mendes wanted to star in the movie alongside Mancuso.

"First of all, I'd never worked on anything or even been sent anything that had to do with Brazilian culture," the actress tells A.frame. "I’m so proud that we get to showcase our culture in a film that is so original and unique and unlike anything I'd ever read or seen. This project being told through the eyes of this synesthete — and this idea of personifying synesthesia — was really interesting to me. I loved that it was combining a million genres and just felt fresh and original."

Música is the loosely autobiographical story of Mancuso's young adulthood as a Brazilian-American trying to find his way as an aspiring musician with synesthesia. (Synesthesia is a condition that causes one's brain to process sensory information through various unrelated senses. Mancuso's manifests by, as he explains, "organizing everyday regular sounds into some kind of musical construct.") "So much of the film is so highly personal," he says.

Like the Rudy of the film, "I was commuting in Newark, New Jersey every single day, being set up on dates, juggling all the different creative ideas and literal people in my life," Mancuso says. "From the beginning, I knew that I wanted to play myself. I knew I wanted my mother to play my mother" — Maria Mancuso does, indeed, co-star as Rudy's mother, Maria — "and I knew I wanted to shoot in as authentic of locations as possible to the story."


After being cast as Rudy's love interest, Mendes was eager to help flesh out her character, the charismatic fishmonger Isabella. "There was a lot of female influence in the script, but I don't think that had fully been reflected in the female characters quite yet," she explains. "I didn't want Isabella to be the Brazilian-American version of a manic pixie dream girl.”

"I wanted to make sure she didn't feel too perfect, like the perfect Brazilian girl that's just go-with-the-flow and isn't worried about the future and she's super chill," Mendes says. "To me, that felt like a big eye roll. I wanted to make sure she had something more to her."

Mendes and Mancuso would Zoom for hours, bouncing ideas off one another, and working to develop the female roles — Francesca Reale plays Rudy's other love interest, college girlfriend Haley — into characters who felt flawed, but real. "We talked about everything. I'd never worked so intimately on a script before," Mendes says. "I wanted to contribute creatively as much as I could, because the story resonated with me a lot and felt very personal to my life experience as well." Eventually, she was brought on as an executive producer, too.

Música is a project where wearing multiple hats was not uncommon. In addition to directing and starring in the movie, Mancuso also co-wrote it with Dan Lagana and composed the original music. "Brazilian culture is almost a character of its own, so it only felt appropriate to fill the film with as much Brazilian music as possible," he says of the score, which incorporates everything from bossa nova to batucada to samba. "That was really important to me when I was writing the music, was to pay homage to the years of Brazilian music that I've been listening to for so long."

Still, Mancuso adds, "I knew that it couldn't just be a conventional musical, where the cast breaks into a song and a number with vocal music. You don't need musical instruments and musical people in order to make music. There's music in everything... That became the language of the film."

Camila Mendes and Rudy Mancuso at the SXSW premiere of 'Música.'

It makes sense that someone with as unconventional a career trajectory as Mancuso has would create a film as unconventional as Música. Mancuso got his start on the now-defunct social media platform Vine, before becoming a YouTube sensation through his often musical, always comedic videos. He developed Música in one form or another for years — first as a series and then as a feature.

"Film was always my greatest passion. It's what drove all the other creative endeavors," he says. "The strategy, for me, was to create on as many platforms as possible and leverage everything that I was doing and built on the internet and treat it as an avenue to making film."

Música premiered during this year's SXSW Film & TV Festival in Austin, Texas. Mancuso says he is still processing the experience. "Most of the world will watch it at home" — the movie is now streaming on Prime Video — "so to get the opportunity for a large, excited group of people to see it in the theater? That was an absolute dream come true."

"I find it really hard to not feel joy when I watch this," Mendes says for her part. "It's such a magical movie and so unique that I'm like, you've got to be made out of stone to not like this movie and not feel something when you watch this movie."

With Música in the can, Mancuso has some advice for anyone considering writing, directing, acting and composing on their first feature: "Don't do it," he jokes. Making Música took a village, but capturing his own life story on the screen relied heavily on his singular insight. "The writing of the script, the composing of the music, directing it, and leading it were so interwoven that it didn't feel like different jobs," Mancuso says. "It all felt like it was under one creative and cohesive umbrella. So, to me, there was really no other way. Even though it presented its share of obstacles, it was the only way to tell this story in as authentic a way as possible."

By Sara Tardiff


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