No doubt, Gina Rodriguez is a star in the making. The rising actress spent months getting down a flow -- a hip-hop flow -- for her starring role in Sundance flick “Filly Brown.” In the title role, the Latina MC is trying to “make it” with the help of a local hip-hop podcast, her ever-loving crew and by spitting her own nasally L.A. fire. As Majo Tonorio, the Real Girl behind Filly, she’s plagued with the stuff of VH1’s “Behind the Music”: A fiercely imploring and manipulative mother Maria who’s serving jail time on drug charges (Jenni Rivera); a naïve and bratty teenaged sister Lupe (Chrissie Fit); a hard-working dad Jose barely making ends meet at a construction job (Lou Diamond Phillips).
Filly Brown aspires to stardom for more than just the starry-eyed reasons. She needs the money, to help her mother out of jail – or is it money to just get her out of trouble? Through the Great Green Struggle, Filly discovers that she’s becoming more and more like her mom, for better and for worse.
It’s a good flip on the script, where we’re used to seeing male protagonists try to live up to their fathers’ expectations. But in this case, the beautiful Latina lead is trying to carve her own when it seems everybody – her family, her friends, her boyfriend and her “handlers” – have their own reasons for why they want Filly Brown to succeed in the entertainment biz.
This is where it falls off the rails. Directors Youssef Delara and Michael D. Olmos watered down the characters and processes to archetypes. Brown’s biggest beef is with a two-dimensional rapper MC Wyatt, a hand-jobby bad boy who also brings the hurt to Brown’s sister. Noel Gugliemi plays Big Cee, a label head and mastermind that magically makes singles hit the mainstream in a matter of weeks (or was it days?). The local promoter is a clown in it for a cheap buck, Jose’s boss is a shrewd business woman and borderline racist.
The film has a lot of placeholder characters, without a lot of character development. And the result is a lot of crying. Everybody’s just crying all over the place. Rodriguez spends more time in the movie crying than she does rapping the same couple of tracks over and over with snapshots of sad, mad and glad in between.
Rodriguez, then, turns into a dependable rapper and cryer, but I never bought the toughness of the script. Violence, shady business dealings and deception run rampant, seemingly out of nowhere, like a byproduct of the genre. That plotline, too, then becomes a simple archetype. The film does a better job lampooning the biz rather than address the serious legal issues of signing a big contract without looking it over, or the unsexy ramifications of sexualizing an artist’s image.
This process of simplification also has its funny moments and genuinely beautiful family moments. They just lack of gravity. Rodriguez and her cohorts obviously have skill, but the game, at times, just wasn’t on.