Sundance 2012 Review: ‘Filly Brown’ Spits Emotion, But Loses Focus With Overly Complicated Narrative

When it comes to family loyalty it is hard to turn your back on those you can’t help but love unconditionally, even if they disappoint you at every turn. Maria, aka Filly Brown (Gina Rodriguez), has become the matriarch of her house with a mother (Jennie Rivera) in jail who left behind not only, Filly but her younger sister Lupe (Chrissy Fit) and her father (Lou Diamond Phillips) as well. This responsibility has clearly left Filly with a tough exterior, but never bitter, as Rodriguez is able to seamlessly transition from a sharp-tongued fighter to a naïve young girl.

It is clear from the onset (and comments from those in Filly’s life) that her mother is bad news, but as her daughter Filly can’t (or won’t) see that and when her mother asks for her help, Filly agrees without question. This promise becomes the catalyst that drives Filly through the rest of the film and effects the decisions that she makes to get the funds her mom seems to so desperately need.

Filly’s main outlet is her music and when Filly spits some lyrics her mom had given her, she suddenly starts getting noticed by producers around town and it seems like her music career may be taking off. When Filly realizes that her talent could be the key to getting the money to help her mom, she agrees to sign with a producer mainly because the price is right.

While many artists have gotten caught up in the hype of becoming “successful,” Rodriguez’s performance comes across as consistently genuine as a girl who truly believes she can go down this rabbit hole and come out the other side unscathed. When Filly begins to realize that the person she has been making all these sacrifices for may have bigger problems than getting out of prison and the lyrics she gave her have their own set of problems, Filly’s world quickly falls apart and the woman that had been her reason for doing all this suddenly becomes the reason it is all falling apart.

Filly Brown would have benefited from tighter editing and dropping some of the unnecessary side story lines instead focusing on Filly’s journey and how her love for her family affected her music in both positive and negative ways. The film is most interesting when it begins to show how Filly changes from an artist in it for the love of the music to someone who sees it as a profitable business opportunity and suddenly her music (and Filly herself) start to change to fit that more mainstream mold.

The Upside: There is an interesting story here with a strong lead that shows how getting into the music industry can be quite similar to having a large extended family and how those relationships and interactions can become more and more complicated.

The Downside: Too many side story lines that are abandoned and suddenly revisited making the overall film feel disjointed and choppy. 

On the Side: Having never rapped before the film, Rodriguez is impressive as she spits rhymes that feel like they truly were her own.

Snuggle up with the rest of our Sundance 2012 coverage

Allison has always been fascinated by the power music has when paired with an image – particularly its effect in film. Thanks to a background in recording and her days spent licensing music to various productions (including, of course, movies), Allison can usually be found sticking around to see all the songs noted in a film’s credits and those listening to her iTunes inevitably ask, “What movie is this song from?”

Read More from Allison Loring
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