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In Theaters


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Emily Tsiao

Movie Review

Imagine, if you will, some guys tossing around a basketball, creating a beat every time the ball touches the ground. Nearby kids complement the sound with the pitter patter of their feet as they jump rope. Then a couple of people playing checkers join in with the tapping of the game pieces against the board. The birds add a melody. Passing cars create harmony. And all these sounds come together in perfect rhythm to create music.

Except that nobody can hear it but you.

That’s life in a nutshell for Rudy. What most folks recognize as normal, everyday sounds—dishes clinking in a diner, students typing notes on their laptops—Rudy hears as music.

It’s a condition known as synesthesia.

Sometimes, it’s beautiful. And Rudy really enjoys those little moments where the whole world seems to be in sync.

Other times, it’s detrimentally distracting. A form of torture only perceivable to him. It breaks his focus, interrupts his thoughts and, from his girlfriend Haley’s perspective, causes him to tune out of important conversations about their future.

Well, ex-girlfriend. Haley finally gets fed up with Rudy’s seeming disinterest in anything she has to say and dumps him.

But even as Rudy is still reeling from this change in relationship status, he meets someone new.

Isabella is smart, funny and Brazilian (an important factor since Rudy’s Brazilian mother wants him to marry someone from their culture). More importantly, Isabella seems to understand Rudy in ways Haley never did. She encourages his close relationship with his mother. She supports his love of puppetry and his desire to turn it into a career. She sympathizes with how his synesthesia affects him.

But what really excites Rudy about Isabella is that when he looks at her, the whole world seems to stop moving, and a pleasant little tune starts playing in his head.

Positive Elements

Isabella is sympathetic toward Rudy’s condition. Rather than tease him or scoff at his explanations for why he “tunes out,” she empathizes. She says his synesthesia is a gift since it allows him to perceive the world in a way others can’t. And when the noises begin to overwhelm him in one particularly critical moment, she covers his ears in an effort to help him focus instead of getting upset with him.

Isabella also helps Rudy realize what matters most to him. When he insults his neighborhood, she helps him to see how full of life and culture it is. She pushes him to take his puppet show (his true passion which is currently just a hobby) to the next level and to pursue it professionally. And she encourages his relationship with his mother, telling him that family is a blessing, not a burden.

And it’s a good thing Isabella does so, because even though Rudy is insecure about his relationship with his mom, he considers her to be his best friend. We see how the mother-son duo truly loves and cares for each other throughout the film. And when Rudy messes up, his mom is forgiving and helpful instead of scornful, only wanting her son to be happy.

When Rudy’s ex, Haley, expresses interest in getting back together with him, he ultimately winds up dating her and Isabella at the same time. And this admittedly self-focused choice serves as a cautionary tale since it not only puts stress on Rudy, forcing him to lie to both women (and his mom), but it also shows how damaging being dishonest can be to all parties involved.

[Spoiler warning] Perhaps unsurprisingly, Rudy hurts both women by not being honest with them. He apologizes to Isabella, and she forgives him. However, she doesn’t resume dating him. Rather, she has enough emotional intelligence and self-respect to realize that although Rudy truly is sorry, he’s just not ready to be in a romantic relationship. And she encourages him to figure out what he wants in life and where he’s going before trying to drag someone along with him for the ride. Which he does.

Spiritual Elements

Rudy has a tattoo of the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Elsewhere, we see a church in the background of one scene.

Anwar, a friend of Rudy’s who owns a food truck, wears a yarmulke when selling food in a Jewish neighborhood even though he’s not Jewish himself.

Sexual Content

While dating both women, Rudy kisses Haley and Isabella each several times throughout the film.

Rudy’s mom sets him up on a date with a Brazilian woman. Rudy is freaked out, telling his mom not to be his “pimp,” but the woman finds it normal. She puts her hand on Rudy’s knee and tries to kiss him several times while his mom looks on.

Some women wear tops showing cleavage and midriffs. We see Haley in a silky tank top-and-shorts combo. Rudy wakes one morning with his shirt unbuttoned, revealing his chest.

Characters flirt. Rudy and Isabella press against one another while switching seats in a truck. A young boy says that “butts” are the first thing that show up in a Google search of the word Brazil. There’s a joke about a strip club. Rudy’s puppet says he’s dating nine other puppets and a sock.

Violent Content

Rudy often complains that his neighborhood is “sketchy.” Isabella, who lives in the same area, initially laughs this off, optimistically citing its many positive attributes. And while Isabella isn’t wrong, neither is Rudy. On the evening of their first date, Rudy gets hit in the shoulder (we see some blood) by a stray bullet. He’s rushed to the hospital but heals up pretty quickly (we’re told it was only a flesh wound).

A man is knocked unconscious when he’s accidentally hit in the head by a frozen fish. Rudy gets whacked in the head by trash several times during a montage. Rudy rehearses a scene with his puppets wherein a male character purposely bangs his head several times to impress a female character.

A flashback shows Rudy’s parents arguing. His dad knocks a pot onto the floor and then tosses Rudy’s mom onto the floor as well.

Crude or Profane Language

We hear two uses of the f-word, once when Rudy says it and then immediately after when his mother tells him not to say it. There are at least 30 uses of the s-word, plus an additional two dozen or so when a song repeats that vulgarity over and over.

We also hear uses of “a–hole,” “b–ch,” “d–n” and “h—.” God’s name is misused about six times.

Rudy imagines that the word “butts” is being repeated by a child several times when his synesthesia kicks in.

Drug and Alcohol Content

When Rudy inadvertently winds up at a restaurant where Haley and Isabella are both present, he drinks heavily, hoping the drinks will give him the courage to finally tell both women the truth. Rudy also gets blackout drunk when his buddy mixes a drink for him at a party. (He passes out and his friend takes him home.)

People drink alcohol casually throughout the film. Isabella says she might open a bar or lounge someday. A woman excuses her mom’s poor behavior, saying that her mother was drunk.

Other Negative Elements

Rudy winds up dating Haley and Isabella at the same time because he’s unable to choose between the two women. And even though he knows it’s wrong, he lies to both women and his mother to prevent any of them figuring out what he’s doing. This cowardice hurts all of them when they find out.

Audiences may be tempted to ask why Rudy is dating Haley to begin with. She’s unsupportive of his puppetry. She keeps pushing him toward a job he doesn’t want. And she wants him to leave his home and mom in Newark to join her in New York City.

However, this isn’t entirely her fault. For the past four years, Rudy has been pursuing a degree in marketing, leading Haley to believe that’s what he wants, just like her. He’s also repeatedly told her how much he hates Newark and feels stuck there. And even though he loves his mom, he appears to blame her for that, stating that he is “all she has.”

That said, Haley is woefully unaware of Rudy’s connection to his culture. In four years of dating, she’s never truly spent time in his neighborhood, opting instead to invite Rudy to the country club her family has a membership at. And even though she tries to be more empathetic about these things when they get back together, she’s clearly embarrassed that he isn’t more ambitious, since she lies to her parents about his plans for the future. Similarly Rudy’s mom seemingly references that cultural gap when she derogatorily dubs Haley a “gringa” several times.

But Haley’s family is arguably worse. After Rudy says that his mom immigrated from Brazil, they quickly ask if she did so legally. They also state that their housekeeper is Guatemalan, as if that somehow connects her to Rudy since she is also from South America; it’s statement that demonstrates their ignorance of the different languages and cultures present around them (and one that prompts the housekeeper to call them racist in Spanish). It’s clear that they look down on Rudy since he was raised by a single mother; they say that didn’t have a “typical upbringing.” (Though Rudy defends that it was typical to him.)

It can be inferred that Rudy’s dad abandoned him and his mom. We also learn that Isabella’s mother moved back to Brazil for a guy when Isabella was 15. And though she talks to her mom on occasion, this selfish choice obviously still hurts Isabella.

Depending on which neighborhood he’s in, Anwar (a friend of Rudy’s who owns a food truck) will change his food prices and the celebrity poster hanging on his wall. (When he’s in an upper-class neighborhood, the prices increase. When he’s in a Jewish neighborhood, he hangs a poster of Barbra Streisand on the wall.)


Ultimately, Rudy learns that the música in his head isn’t a bad thing. Yes, it’s distracting. Sure, it can overwhelm him at times. And yeah, it has definitely caused some relational issues.

But it’s also what drives him. It inspires him. And it allows him to see the world in new ways.

The music shows Rudy how special Isabella is. Isabella, in turn, shows Rudy how special he is.

Of course, everything doesn’t necessarily turn out happily ever after, since Rudy still has a lot to learn about life and love.

Rudy lies to three women he cares about, ultimately hurting them all. But this story doesn’t justify Rudy’s actions or immediately invite viewers to forgive him when he apologizes. Rather, Rudy learns the hard way that there are consequences for his actions. And he also realizes that what he really needed to do was get his life together—to respect the people already and intrinsically a part of it, like his mom—before trying to invite new people in.

Música has a lot of harsh language and a few sexual implications. There are a few instances of excessive drinking, and Rudy gets shot at one point (though he’s ultimately OK and this serves more as a comedic told-you-so than anything).

However, the film also shines a light on the largely misunderstood condition of synesthesia—which writer, director and star Rudy Mancuso has been diagnosed with. And audiences willing to navigate the film’s murkier waters will find a heartfelt and artistic story about a young man learning what—and who—really matters in life.

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Emily Tsiao

Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and geeking out with her husband indulging in their “nerdoms,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything they love, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate and Lord of the Rings.