Crack is whack and so is this film, says a particularly poetic Judge Bill Gibron.
Just call it Ocho Mile…
Rap and Hip-Hop have sure come a long way since Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five delivered "The Message" to hungry minds a hundred billion years ago. It's shifted from a party atmosphere, to the tough polemics of Public Enemy, to the current state of scribbling down a few ideas before adding your rhymes to the latest prepackaged I Heart Radio hit. While there have been geniuses in the musical artform since its founding in the '70s, there have also been players, pretenders, and barely passable wannabes.
The main character in the Latino-tinged Filly Brown is one such hopeful. Majo Tonorio (Gina Rodriguez, The Bold and the Beautiful) is struggling, dealing with her mother's (Jenni Rivera) incarceration and the familial responsibilities she left behind, including caring for her aging father (Lou Diamond Phillips, La Bamba). Majo copes by rapping, appearing on local radio shows and underground clubs. She hopes to make enough money to pay her mother's lawyer (Edward James Olmos, Stand and Deliver) and get her a retrial. The problem is, she has little commercial prospects.
One day, a producer named Rayborn (Pete "Chingo Bling" Herrera) takes an interest in Majo, who goes by the name of "Filly Brown." The only problem is, he believes her act is not sexy enough to gain any real mainstream traction. He suggests selling out, something our heroine swore she would never do. But with her Dad trying to "assimilate" to help his contracting business and Mom anxious to clear her name (or, based on the oddball requests she gives her daughter, dig herself in deeper), Majo takes the plunge, signing with a hot label run by Big Cee (Noel G.). There, she faces off against a rival (Joseph Julian Soria, Army Wives) who wants to put Filly in her place once and for all.
If there was such a thing as a Latino Tyler Perry, the makers of Filly Brown would fit the bill. Only in the African American phenomenon's films and plays do we see melodrama this thick and broad. In fact, the only authenticity here is the names, locations, and performers hired. Everything else comes directly out of the How to Manipulate the Audience and Not Feel Guilty About It handbook. Filly/Majo is set up to be such a noble, naive "artist" that she can't see when everyone around her is pushing her buttons.
Mom is especially bad at this, since she more or less guilts her child into giving up her principles (and indirectly run some drug money for her) and grab for the tainted brass ring. Dad wants to "keep it real" but can't get ahead in his construction business unless he "dresses the part" (read: Anglicizes himself). Filly/Majo tries to believe in herself, but she faces a chauvinistic industry which more or less suggests that the only way she will ever succeed is if she pushed sex first, skill second (right, Nicki Minaj?). This isn't the stuff of some gritty urban drama. It's every backstage pot boiler since Norman Maine took a walk into the Pacific.
For the most part, the acting is acceptable. Ms. Rodriguez can handle the musical material quite well, and she has a good presence when not onstage. But her character is a contradiction in terms. One minute, she's dead set against playing up her looks to make a dollar, the next she is eagerly doing so. Similarly, she acts like a strong willed young woman until Momma asks her something and the blame overwhelms her. Phillips is fine as the father (he gets one of the movie's best scenes) and Olmos does what he can with the little he's given. In fact, that's a good way to sum up Filly Brown. While it wants to be authentic and real, it ends up being the same old stage door stuff spiced up with some intriguing beats and street poetry.
Technically, the Blu-ray from Vivendi is very good. The lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix handles the musical elements with ease. We get a lot of immersion during the raps and we also feel a nice amount of space and ambience. The 1080p, 2.39:1 image is also very clean and crisp, with good color and balanced skin tones. There are some obvious budgetary flaws in the filmmaking, but the transfer itself is terrific. Sadly, there are no bonus features available, and when you consider that this was the last film for the renowned Latina artist Jenni Rivera (she died in a plane crash recently), you'd expect at least something to celebrate her legacy.
Filly Brown is a well-intentioned film, executed with professionalism, but adding up to very little in the end. It's not engaging enough, and the rap is not special enough, to keep up connected to the characters or their kitchen sink dramatics.
Guilty. Not special enough to spin out from under its clear cinematic
Give us your feedback!
Scales of Justice
Studio: Vivendi Visual Entertainment
Review content copyright © 2013 Bill Gibron; Site design and review layout copyright © 2016 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.