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Filly Brown


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'Filly Brown': A star is boring
Kate Erbland, Special to MSN Movies

Breaking into the world of entertainment has rarely been portrayed on the big screen as some kind of an easy feat, with plenty of films chronicling the rise and fall of bright-eyed talents hitting theaters over the years to varying degrees of success (from Oscar winner "Dreamgirls" to perpetual whipping boy "Glitter"). "Filly Brown" directors Youssef Delara (who also wrote the film) and Michael D. Olmos clearly haven't missed any of cinema's other, better films about becoming a star, as their feature about a rising rap star is an unoriginal mash-up of nearly ever trope and cliché of the genre. Starring up-and-comer Gina Rodriguez as the eponymous Filly Brown, the film centers on the lady rapper as she attempts to make it in the music game, all while predictably abandoning nearly every person and principle that got her there.

Bing: Learn more about 'Filly Brown'

Beyond her rap dreams, Rodriguez's Majo (Filly Brown is her stage name) is excessively family-oriented, thanks to her overworked dad (Lou Diamond Phillips), her rebellious kid sister (Chrissie Fit), and a jailbird mom (the late Jenni Rivera, in her final screen role) desperate to reconnect. It is when Majo finally gives in to her mother's incessant reunion requests that everything changes for the young rapper, not because she's suddenly found a healthy emotional relationship with her wayward mom (hint: she hasn't), but because her mom slips her a rundown of her own lyrics that Majo soon adopts as her own. While Delara and Olmos hammer home Majo's apparent talent at every turn, their bizarre choice to turn Filly into an unoriginal copycat makes it nearly impossible to get behind both the rapper and her words.

Majo is soon picked up by skeezy record producer Rayborn (Chingo Bling), who sets out to change her entire look and tone in order to sell her as an artist. Desperate for money to help get her mom out of the clink, Filly's formerly politically conscious, wickedly street-smart lyrics quickly crumble into what Rayborn demands, a dumbed-down version that places a premium on sex appeal. Filly's songs are, of course, not the only things that sell out almost immediately  Filly herself adopts a sexed up persona that renders her almost unrecognizable to her disbelieving friends, family and fanbase. The portrayal of the music industry, its "hustle," and what presumably passes for mainstream success in "Filly Brown," is nothing new, and the film cribs from its genre without prejudice or a discerning eye.

Yet, "Filly Brown" finds some compelling material in the progression of Filly's signature song over the course of the film  from a raw, original rap to an almost laughably slick club-ready pop jam that's utterly void of Filly's own voice. The irony of the situation is clear  nifty studio tricks manage to all but totally remove Filly's actual voice from her own songs  but that irony is one of the few clever and interesting bits that "Filly Brown" manages to shoehorn into its time-worn, tone-deaf story.

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Kate Erbland is a contributing writer for MSN Movies, a critic for Boxoffice magazine and an associate editor for Film School Rejects. She has been writing about movies since 2008, but has been thinking about movies for far longer. She lives in Los Angeles.
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