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Review: 'Filly Brown' a fierce tale of a promising hip-hop rapper

Gina Rodriguez is formidable as the title character in a heartfelt drama that also features a notable Jenni Rivera in her first and last film role.

April 18, 2013|By Amy Nicholson
  • A scene from "Filly Brown."
A scene from "Filly Brown." (Indomina Releasing )

Rapper Filly Brown (Gina Rodriguez) is tomboyish and politicized, spitting lines like "Do you even see the Latinos serving you Chinese?" over a flamenco-inspired beat. She's the sound of Los Angeles — and so too is her eponymous movie "Filly Brown," which even gives a key role to local Power 106 DJ Khool-Aid and her weekly syndicated Latin hip-hop show, "Pocos Pero Locos."

Fifteen months after its Sundance Film Festival premiere, this heartfelt drama from director-producers Youssef Delara and Michael D. Olmos is finally reaching theaters. It's a familiar showbiz soap opera: Can Filly resist the sleazebag producer trying to transform her from firebrand feminist to sexed-up "street vixen"? Can she shield her naive 17-year-old sister (Chrissie Fit) from her dastardly label mate (Joseph Julian Soria)? Can father (Lou Diamond Phillips) keep lawyer (Edward James Olmos) from telling the girls the truth about their family? We can guess the answers, yet almost despite our will, the cast keeps us invested in Filly's furious resurrection.

Rodriguez is forthright and formidable, a festival ingenue who deserves to be discussed in the same breath as Elizabeth Olsen and Jennifer Lawrence. (Ahem: Neither of them did their own rapping.) But the breakout performance belongs — painfully — to banda superstar Jenni Rivera, who died in a plane crash last December. In her first (and last) film role, Rivera plays Filly's manipulative mother, a convict serving 10 years in Chino. It's a haunting, unglamorous performance, and when the prison guards take her away, we wish she could stay longer.

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"Filly Brown." MPAA Rating: R for language, some drug use and violence. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes. In limited release.

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