Camila Mendes and Rudy Mancuso Have Your New Favorite in “Música”

Rudy Mancuso and Camila Mendes in Música

Star of cult hits Riverdale and Do Revenge, Camila Mendes feels an “immense positivity radiating from people” who see her new movie, Música, which premiered at SXSW and is now on Prime Video. Or so she tells LatinaMedia.Co on a recent Zoom with her and the film’s writer/director/star Rudy Mancuso.

Mancuso based the film on his personal experience navigating the classic, college-senior anxiety. We meet our fictional Rudy as a young man finishing up school who feels completely lost. It’s not just that he’s distracted by his synesthesia – a condition where sensory input affects multiple systems, like tasting colors. For Rudy, it manifests as everyday sounds merging into distracting symphonies, shown in the film as Stomp-esque musical numbers. He also cannot seem to find his courage as an artist, figure out how to see his Brazialian-American identity as a strength, or realize that he’s with the wrong girl. Enter Mendes as the confident Isabella and Rudy’s journey takes off.

“I know it better than anyone because it’s mine,” says Mancuso of the film’s subject. The project is the definition of personal, as we follow his story of finding his voice, rom-com-ified. But unlike other coming-of-age romances told from the male perspective, Música avoids sexist tropes. Making sure the female characters “didn’t feel like they were just there to serve Rudys was really important,” says Mancuso, after citing that “There were a lot of strong women at the forefront of this project” including the executives who bought the film at Amazon and many of its producers, which include Mendes.

Of Isabella, Mendes says, “She’s not just the Brazilian American version of a manic pixie dream girl where she’s so cool and chill and perfect and has no problems whatsoever. I needed to just sneak in [the fact that] she has her own little past traumas, and she has her little insecurities and triggers.”

And it’s not just her character that Mendes pays attention to but also the other corner in Rudy’s love triangle, Haley (Francesca Reale). Mendes shares she wanted to ensure they both “feel like fully well-rounded women and that they weren’t too much on opposite sides of the spectrum… there’s nothing wrong with the fact that [Haley] wants to craft her future and she’s thinking about her next move.” Haley may be a planner while Isabella is a free spirit but the two women are not foils that create some sort of cautionary tale about putting your needs above your man’s. Instead, they are individuals with their own stories that just happen to cross with Rudy’s.

To further emphasize this point, there’s the other central woman in the film, Rudy’s mom Maria (Maria Mancuso). Yes, that’s the filmmaker’s real mom up there, playing the hyper-involved matriarch many of us know so well. The film takes pains to humanize her, even as she provides comic relief – something audiences resonated with, making the real Maria “think she’s a movie star. She’s already hired three assistants,” as her son jokes.

Maria Mancuso and Rudy Mancuso in Música
Maria Mancuso and Rudy Mancuso in Música

Hers isn’t the only pride swelling on-screen – Música is also filled with a warm appreciation of what Mendes calls the “Brazilian American experience… having the duality.” Fictional Rudy may start out frustrated at some markers of his identity, like his neighborhood and nosy mom, but the film has no doubts. It’s a pure celebration of the language, food, culture, sights, and sounds with both Mancuso and Mendes playing characters who share their heritage – a first for Mendes who up to this point has played Latinas of all sorts of nationalities, except her own.

That specificity is important and it’s part of why Latines need to be telling our own stories – we’re the ones who know the details, the texture, and the differences. Which makes Música all the more exciting because it’s giving creatives from our community the experience they need to keep working and level up in Hollywood.

When asked what they learned making the film, Mendes retorts, “What didn’t we learn?” before sharing that this was her first time producing a project to completion. Mancuso says, “I learned how to wear this many hats simultaneously… How to delegate, collaborate, practice patience, edit remotely, all tools that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my career.”

Here’s hoping it’s a long one and that we get many more stories and characters from the team behind the endearing Música, out now on Prime Video.

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