I remember last year when Jesus Orellana emailed me all the way from Spain and sold me on his really hot short ROSA. Orellana and the short went through the Hollywood machinery, got representation, a deal, and even a mention on last year’s viewfinder list.
I remember tracking Juan Of The Dead very early on before the rest of fanboy nation got on the bandwagon. Now the film got a theatrical release.
In other words, I’m always on the lookout for what’s hot.
So naturally I was curious when Filly Brown made it into Sundance and got selected to be one of the sixteen films in the dramatic competition. Now unfortunately we couldn’t go to the dance like we have in prior years because in case you haven’t noticed, we been busy with the redesign of the site.
This being the age of social media, I paid close attention to the film and any noise it made online. I followed the tweets, the facebook updates and especially the reviews.
Now in general, I don’t have a problem with reviews. There are some great voices out there. What I do have a problem with though, is when the majority of the reviews for a film written by, directed by, starring and aimed squarely at Latinos is criticized from an overwhelmingly “white” point of view. Not cool. There needs to be some balance.
You see, I wanted the Latin perspective so I sought the film out. Having some pull, I reached out to the nice folks at WME, and they were kind enough to screen the film for me this past Friday here in New York.
Now that I seen the film and had the weekend to digest it, what’s the verdict?
Simply put, Filly Brown is HOT!
I want you guys to remember the name Gina Rodriguez.
Because Miss Rodriguez is FIRE in this movie! Her presence is undeniable. This Boricua actress from Chicago totally killed the game as the lead. It is the most electrifying debut of a Latina actress since Jennifer Lopez first burst onto the scene in Selena.
In the film, Gina Rodriguez plays Majo whose MC name is Filly Brown. The film opens at an Internet radio station in Los Angeles as Majo gets on the microphone and drops her lyrics. The Sundance trailer is actually the opening minutes of the film. Check it out.
Filly is trying to blow up in the world of the L.A. Latino hip hop scene as a way of springing her mom Maria (Banda singer Jenni Rivera) out of prison. Filly’s militant ruffneck flow is reminiscent of old school MC Lyte that was all the rage in the late 1980′s. Filly visits her mom in prison who is incarcerated on drug charges and learns that the cop whose testimony put Maria away is under investigation. Filly persuades her legal-aid attorney Leandro (Edward James Olmos), to fight to vacate the verdict. So off the bat Filly is our selfless heroine who has undeserved misfortune and rooting interest.
Filly lives at home with her pops Jose (Lou Diamond Phillips) and her younger sister Lupe (Chrissie Fit). While Jose is out doing construction work with his crew, Filly has to hold the house down and keep her sister out of trouble with hormonal boys.
Filly is so thirsty, and has a single narrow minded focus to raise $3,000 for her mother, that she hooks up with a small time promoter Rayborn (Pete “Chingo Bling” Herrera) who sexes up her look and flow that is all the rage with female MCs these days. Off the bat you know that Rayborn is mad suspect and a total herb who can’t really do much for her.
There has been criticism that Filly hooking up with Rayborn makes her reckless and naive. Well, hip hop is full of stories of hugely successful acts that blow up big time yet never read the fine print in their contracts. NWA comes to mind and Filly Brown is no different. Aspiring artists will do almost anything to get love from the record labels or shady promoters. Unfortunately, most of the time, they end up getting taken like suckers at three card monty.
Before you know it, Filly is up in the club doing her new sexy act and gets the attention of Big Cee (Noel G) who runs the hot record label. Filly Brown hooks up with Big Cee and Rayborn is kicked to the curb. From this point on Filly is faced with some tough choices as her world falls apart and she desperately tries to hold it together. All seems lost by the end of the second act, until Filly comes back strong in a very powerful monologue in the film’s third act climax. Rodriguez gives it her absolute all. Wow.
By no means the film isn’t perfect. The camera work and editing can be a tad jarring and there are some sub plots that the film can do without, but overall, the writing and directing by Youssef Delara and Michael D. Olmos is on point.
The film totally works.
Comparisons to Hustle and Flow are inevitable, but Filly Brown has a lot more in common with old school hip hop classics like Beat Street and Krush Groove. The film is unique and refreshing as it showcases L.A. Latino hip hop culture and doesn’t perpetuate Latino youth stereotypes. The film is brutally honest in its portrayals.
Not only that, the soundtrack is an absolute BANGER! There are about five or six really hot tracks and I found myself bopping my head to Filly’s flow and fresh beats. Rodriguez totally stepped up to the plate and killed it on the mic. What is downright amazing is that Rodriguez never rapped before preparing for her role. A testament to her immense talent. Directing is ninety percent casting and Delara and Olmos did their job. Hats off bros.
Like I said, this movie is HOT and there is a huge urban audience out there that is hungry for this kind of content. I remember being at Sundance exactly ten years ago when Empire premiered, and then watching that film go on to be one of the top box office grossers of the Sundance class of 2002. That opening weekend in December, Empire had the highest per screen average against a Harry Potter and a James Bond film! An impressive feat and proof of the buying power of the urban audience. Filly Brown can easily replicate that success with a distributor ballsy enough to put it out there.
In closing, I’m glad I saw the film because Filly Brown is the new Beat Street for this generation. Expect this film to continue making noise on the festival circuit and be on the lookout for it.
Hasta el proximo capitulo…