The Sundance Review Revue: FILLY BROWN

Critics are divided on FILLY BROWN, but they agree on Gina Rodriguez, the actress who plays Filly and is being hailed as one of the breakout stars of this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Response to FILLY — a drama about a young woman trying to navigate the morally murky waters of the hip-hop game — has been decidedly mixed, but response to Rodriguez has been decidedly positive, suggesting she is one to watch, even if the film itself might not be.

That doesn’t mean all the reviews are negative; FILLY BROWN certainly has its partisans, like David Rooney from The Hollywood Reporter, who said Rodriguez’s “dynamic breakout performance” helps the film “overcome its patchy storytelling.” Rooney found little to praise in the story but plenty to cheer in Rodirguez’s work. “Despite the inconsistencies of plot and character, and the unevenness of much of the acting,” he wrote, “Rodriguez brings such fire to the part that we keep rooting for [her] even as she makes stupid decisions that bring dire consequences.”

Linda Barnard from The Toronto Star agreed that Rodriguez’s performance “elevates an average film” (this is starting to sound like a broken record, or at least one getting scratched repeatedly). “Rodriguez, who has no music training, worked for months to get her style down and she is flawless on the mic as a tough-as-nails rapper who prizes loyalty and honour, yet loses sight of both.” she wrote. Barnard also noted that Rodriguez’s work elicited an oh-so-important standing ovation from the Sundance crowd when she took the stage following the premiere.

I doubt Nathan Rabin from The A.V. Club was among those standing. He called Rodriguez’s performance “appealing” and also praised Lou Diamond Phillips as Browns’s conscience-stricken father, but took FILLY BROWN to task for recycling the same plot dynamics of every other hip-hop film: “underground versus the mainstream, selling out versus keeping it real, and the sordid allure of the streets versus the creative satisfaction of the studio.” In Rabin’s eyes, the film deserves some credit for putting “a distaff, Hispanic spin on the usual hip hop clichés” but clichés are clichés, even if they’re spun a little bit. Simon Abrams from Slant was even less kind, calling FILLY “a caricature of every stereotypical Sundance drama about plucky young heroines who overcome great adversity just by sticking to their guns and never abandoning their dreams.”

Even if FILLY BROWN isn’t quite the rags-to-riches masterpiece we might have hoped, it does sound like the charismatic Rodriguez won’t need to abandon her own acting dreams anytime soon. Now let’s flitter over to Twitter, to hear whether anyone’s ready to crown the hip hop movie FILLY BROWN. (Yeah, no, you’re right. I shouldn’t ever rap. Ever. Not even as a joke. I’m sorry.)

“FILLY BROWN is an interesting look into the LA Latino rap scene. Very emotional performances & good music carried it with the audience. #fb” — Jeff Goldsmith, The Q&A

“FILLY BROWN: solid performance from Gina Rodriguez + mention of ponehs & my crazy world of copyright – I was into it #hiphopponeh #sff12″ — Allison Loring, Film School Rejects

“FILLY BROWN: Rise-fall-rise of LA female rapper has heart, good performances, and good music to offset the cliches. #Sundance” — Ty Burr, Boston Globe

“FILLY BROWN did better with the emo stuff than the thug life, but it’s good to know the raw talent’s there. #sundance” — Katie Hasty, HitFix

“FILLY BROWN is an average urban hip-hop tale that comes off as a bit contrived. Not as good as I hoped it would be. #sundance” — J. Sperling Reich, Showbiz Sandbox

To find more Sundance screenings of FILLY BROWN, go to