If I were writing a review of Charlie Musumeci's new movie, Ain't Nobody Left Behind, I'd say it mashes up a mock documentary and a reality show.
This low-budget indie production, which he conceived, co-wrote, and stars in, combines a film-within-a-film about two buddies trying to realize their celluloid dreams and a satire about public education reform.
But I'd also note that five years into the struggle by Musumeci and his collaborators on both coasts to finish the project, the backstory shifted from comedy to drama.
In 2011, Musumeci, 58, was found to have a rare and aggressive form of adrenal cancer that has metastasized in his bones.
He's still working, despite the chemo, the pain, and the fragility that requires him to use a walker, which he keeps in the trunk of his car outside the Cherry Hill house he shares with Cindy, his wife of 15 years.
"The ultrasound revealed that I had a 15-centimeter tumor resting between my stomach, spleen, pancreas, and kidney. Sitting there like a big blob," Musumeci says.
"Adrenal carcinoma with sarcoma tendencies" that later "metastasized all over the ... place," he says (with a dash of salty language). "But I live life to my fullest every day. And I have mostly good days."
His illness has made it more urgent to him to get Ain't Nobody, which does not have a distributor, in front of audiences. The first public screening is 6:30 p.m. Nov. 7 at the Rave Cinemas in Voorhees; the $10 ticket charge will benefit event will benefit Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.
"They're overseeing my treatment, and they're at the cutting edge of cancer research," Musumeci says. "This will help them on their journey."
The longtime substitute teacher, softball coach, and theater department go-to at Cherry Hill East High School is fighting for his movie the way he is fighting for his life: with tenacity and humor.
"I honestly think the movie is very funny. My late mother is in it and she steals the show," Musumeci says. "And I'm not just saying that because she's my mother."
Ain't Nobody is codirected, along with Dave Trovato, by the artist Richard Reiner, Rob Reiner's cousin and, like Musumeci, a member of the East Class of '72.
Musumeci, who has worked in theater, film, TV, and commercials since the 1970s, is among a handful of professionals in a cast that includes his friends, fellow East faculty members, and family - including his mom, Mary, who died in 2007.
Ain't Nobody is the story of a fictional New Jersey high school principal desperate to win a prize from the No Child Left Behind program. "He's trying to make the school look perfect, and everything he presents is fictitious," Musumeci says.
The 90-minute movie also tells the tale of two novice filmmakers, loosely based on Musumeci and Reiner, who fly by the seat of the pants.
You could say this was "inspired by actual events," as they say in Hollywood.
"Making that movie was a comedy of errors," Reiner says by phone from his Los Angeles home. "Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Except that we didn't go to jail."
Much of the film was shot at East in 2006, "and for the next year and a half we were in editing hell," Reiner says.
Unsatisfied with the rough cut, they came up with the film-within-a-film and did some additional shooting in Los Angeles. "We basically stole every location," Reiner says.
Both filmmakers credit Cindy Musumeci with persuading everyone involved to complete the movie. "She resurrected it," her husband says.
"It needs to be seen, especially by educators," says Cindy, secretary to the principal at Dwight Eisenhower Middle School in Berlin Township.
"I'm so happy it's finished and that Charlie can enjoy it when everybody else enjoys it," she says. "He's going to get a chance to show people what he's done."
Although he doesn't get any screen time, East principal John O'Breza also is eager to see the movie.
"Everybody loves Charlie," he says. "He brings tremendous spirit and goodwill to East."
Reiner says his friend "really believes he can beat this," and Musumeci agrees.
"I'm going to be hanging around," he says.
Fractures? Pain? Side effects?
Charlie's got another script to revise.
To view a video of an interview with Charlie Musumeci, go to:
Contact Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter @inqkriordan. Read the metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at www.phillynews.com/blinq.