Filly Brown (2012)

Majo: [Rapping] "You couldn't buy me, I have a soul full of riches. / I'm ruthless like two pits with two clits. I'll verbally murder anybody with two tits." 
By Youssef Delara, and Michael D. Olmos
With Gina Rodriguez, Jenni Rivera, Lou Diamond Phillips

Filly Brown. I watched this film because I'm fascinated by spoken word and rap--fascinated by the intensity, the visceral quality, the reality, the emotions, the cathartic nature of the stage, the absolute gut ripping brutality and honesty of it. I was hoping for some of this in this film.

The film is about a young Latino girl, Majo, whose mother is imprisoned for what she believes are false (possession) charges and who will go to any lengths to help free her mother. In what I felt was a rather contrived twist, it so happens that a major recording label is soon interested in her work, and gives her an advance for a hypothetical first album--but only on the condition that she market herself in a more sexualized RnB form. The question then raised is will she be willing to trade in her morals for what she believes is the better good--ie. having the money to finally hire an attorney who can help her mother out of prison?

Juxtaposed with her dilemmas are the troubles of her younger sister in her mid-teens who already finds herself mired in the likes of sleazy semi-famous singers, the type of people Majo will soon be consorting with as she finds herself succumbing to life of easy fame, and the troubles of her father who is desperately trying to start over in life and become a certified Realtor.

Now I went into this film hoping for some good spoken word moments, and I did get a couple. They weren't admittedly the best I'd heard or even the most memorable as such--but what really struck me was the relationship between Majo and her mother. Their relationship is depicted with an eerie realism--with all kinds of lines being blurred--who is mother, who is daughter? What does one want from the other? What is truly the role a parent plays in our life and vice versa? Who is Majo, really, but a mirror of her mother? This is emphasized time and again as all the conversations they have are enacted through a glass divider. Is Majo really as innocent and good as she seems? Can she trust her mother's intentions?

As a viewer we are already aware of the lies Majo's mother presents her with time and again, but what we can't fathom is why Majo, an intelligent young woman, can't figure them out? There is more to it than simply not wishing to see her role model in an unflattering light. A question the film concludes with is can good people do bad things and still be good people? Who has the right to say who is good or who is bad? While these questions may seem hackneyed in the genre of coming-of-age films, Filly Brown explores them through language, through the power of delivery, through it's exploration of the very legitimate difficulty of being a good person.

I liked: Gina Rodriguez was absolutely brilliant. Facial expressions, performance, everything was stunningly convincing. Very rarely have I seen a more sympathetic character portrayal. I also enjoyed the depiction of the "bad" mother. This isn't something I have seen much in cinema; it seems sort of taboo to explore this outside of the stepmother context.

I disliked: Several characters seemed overtly stereotypical and unconvincing. The sister was probably supposed to highlight an aspect of Majo's own situation but I felt it was a little too obvious. The mother could have been a lot more complex--there was just so much untapped depth over there, considering the strength of the premise.

A very watchable movie with some interesting points to mull over. However, precisely because of its strong promise and potential, it has the ability to be just all that more disappointing when it doesn't quite deliver the punch you'd been expecting it to pack. Nevertheless, I do recommend this film, simply because I enjoyed it in a genuine way, and it made me feel real things. 


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