Photo via fillybrown.com
Majo Tonorio is a feisty and talented young girl, but the odds are against her. She’s trying to keep her family together, her younger sister out of trouble, and at same time, pursue a music career. Yet everyone is pushing in the opposite direction, starting with her mother.
As played by the late singer Jenny Rivera, the mother is a manipulative, selfish druggie. The glamorous Rivera persona is nowhere to be seen. The movie is touted as the film debut of a super star, but the super star is not allowed to sing, robbing the movie of a much needed boost.
Instead, we get a selfish, demanding woman who pressures her daughter to pay for her bad habits. The father is no better. As played by Lou Diamond Phillips, he is a bitter old man who has lost his ideals. The only sympathetic characters are the lawyer (Eddie Olmos) and her uncle Manny (Emilio Rivera) who try to advise Majo in her problems.
In the music business, Majo finds more manipulators: her manager and the various producers who take a lot but give her very little. In one scene she signs a contract without even reading it.
And in a movie about rap music, the music is not great. “Filly Brown,” which is Majo’s big song, is quite forgettable.
The film is an urban drama about the struggle to make it in the world of rap music, but it is also about a young girl fighting against the elements of life for the sake of love and family.
But there are also various subplots which add interest to a movie that is predominantly about music.
We see a touch of racism when Majo’s father is told to anglicize his image by his real estate employer because he looks “too Mexican.” We also get a view of the shady tactics in the music production business, where back room deals are made as a way of life. And the film also depicts the proliferation of drugs in the criminal justice system.
Eddie Olmos and Lou Diamond Phillips give their usual professional performances, while Gina Rodgriguez delivers a rock-solid debut performance in her role as the little girl who won’t give up on her mother.
The movie does have a happy ending of sorts. The family is reunited, Majo’s boy friend recovers in the hospital –an innocent victim of the record producer’s vengeance– and her mother agrees to follow the drug rehab program. At the end, Majo is back with her friends at the garage studio creating her own music, not the commercial stuff one producer imposed on her. The closing credits even suggest she might have a big hit on her hands.
Greg Olmos is a Boyle Heights resident and retired teacher. He volunteers at San Antonio de Padua Church and Benjamin Franklin Library and writes as part of a library writing group.