Música, no matter how the word is translated between languages is a universally understood concept of music. “Musica” is the title of Rudy Mancuso’s excellent directorial debut, streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

Understanding what música is helps us to understand Rudy’s journey throughout the story. The film suggests that it is a heartbeat, the lifeblood pumping through our veins. It guides us, if we listen to it, reminding us that just waking up in the morning is beautiful. “Musica” is also a story about the hard work put in to make a life for those who come to this country, looking for better opportunities.

“Música” is about the uncertainties of life. Mancuso, who plays himself, co-wrote the story with Dan Lagana and co-composed the score with Camila Mendes as a jack-of-all-trades. All of Mancuso’s efforts pay off as Rudy, who is distracted by everyday happenings, which he translates in his mind’s eye into musical movements, is at a crossroads with his girlfriend, Haley (Francesca Reale) planning every facet of their post-graduation life together, stuck in his graduate level classes, which his mom, Maria (Maria Mancuso) wants him to complete, and a desire to follow his passion into art as a way out.

Mancuso and Lagana break the story up into musical movements, a title card representing each section, while Mancuso ties his artistic roots back to puppeteering as an emotional outlet. As an actor, Mancuso is hilarious, his relationship with his understanding mom is what every family strives for. He is very comfortable in front of the camera, even as the distant, and awkward relationship with Haley is just as it sounds;

Haley wants security and nothing more than to get away from her privileged, overbearing family. Reale’s performance portrays privilege mixed with the desire to get away from her family, strongly and her interactions with Mancuso, as awkward as they are, are not awkwardly directed; Mancuso understands his canvas and directs with assuredness. There is a natural bond between Mancuso and his real-life mom, Maria Mancuso who plays Maria. So much so that their mother-son arguments feel natural.

Rudy knows he does not want what Haley has to offer or wants, and the character becomes wayward, denying himself the passions he seeks when Isabella (Camila Mendes) comes into his life. There is an instant attraction between Mancuso and Mendes, even as Rudy cannot face his music. Mendes is the strongest aspect of the story.

As the story explores aspects of Brazilian culture in New Jersey, it is a welcomed window into the importance of family, of community, and a welcomed mainstay of “Musica.” Mancuso uses it to open his vulnerabilities as Rudy up, the story’s heart. Mancuso builds our trust in Rudy’s journey early on, and even though the story framework might feel like a paint-by-numbers coming-of-age story, Mancuso injects a tactile feel through the music, ultimately using the story to extend our trust into empathy and sympathy in both Rudy’s and Isabella’s journey.

Mancuso and cinematographer Shane Hurlbut take the puppeteering aspect of Mancuso’s background, building out each scene as if we were watching the puppets come to life in a theater production. The film’s flow moves swiftly, but not so swiftly that we cannot catch our collective breaths, compliments of editor Melissa Kent.

“Música” stands proudly on its feet for its assured direction by Rudy Mancuso, its strong performances, particularly from Mancuso and Camila Mendes, and its genuine story of the unknowns in life, our vulnerabilities to those unknowns and how we respond to them, all while finding love.