Sundance 2012: ‘Filly Brown’ gives Jenni Rivera a chance to grow and Gina Rodriguez a space to shine
In Filly Brown — one of the standout films in the U.S. dramatic competition at Sundance this year — directors Youssef Delara and Michael D. Olmos (the legendary Edward James’ son) have put together a fine cast and a compelling story, centered on a Latina from Los Angeles (up-and-comer Gina Rodriguez) who turns to rap to help her drug-addicted mother out of prison.
The anti-matriarch is played by none other than Jenni Rivera. La diva de la banda went all Mariah Carey in Precious on us in order to get into character. And we have to say, we liked it.
Olmos Sr., who executive produced the pic and plays Rivera’s lawyer, convinced her to take on acting for the fist time, as hesitant as she was. Because, honestly, who can say no to Selena’s dad?
As solid a first-time performance as Rivera delivers, this is unmistakably Gina Rodriguez’s movie. In fact, Rodriguez told Indiewire that the multi-platinum regional Mexican singer even came to her for pointers!
The Puerto Rican actress’ background in spoken word and salsa dancing came in handy as she found the beats and rhythm to her character, Majo, who goes by the stage name Filly Brown. But as big a fan as she is of the hip-hop culture (growing up in Chicago it was all around her), rapping wasn’t something Rodriguez ever imagined doing. Still, she jumped in the studio with the same determination that made her go to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and pursue an acting career, despite the setbacks (she was diagnosed with thyroid disease, which she says has caused her to battle weight gain at times).
Rodriguez, last seen in the teen dance movie Go For It!, reminds us of Michelle Rodriguez with her fearlessness. She’s got that tiger in her. Interestingly, she’s in talks to play a boxer next, in an untitled biopic that is also to be directed by Olmos Jr. Which is quite perfect since her father was a boxing referee and Rodriguez grew up around the sport.
Sadly, we didn’t get a chance to speak to Rodriguez at Sundance. She was whisked away in a car right as we arrived on Main Street to conduct interviews with her co-star and directors.
It was great catching up with Rivera, the two Olmos, and the honorary Latino (but actually Filipino) known as Lou Diamond Phillips, who plays a reformed gangster and Filly Brown’s dad. We really wanted to yell “Ritchieeee!” at the top of our lungs as we parted ways, but we refrained.
In the end, we’re only slightly bummed we didn’t get to talk to Rodriguez this time around because something tells us this isn’t the last we’ll see of her. This one’s here to stay.