History of Future Folk, The

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 02/26/13 15:23:14

"If nothing else, a pretty nice way to promote their album."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2013 BOSTON SCI-FI FILM FEST: It's odd but true: These days, an act like Future Folk can be both a local secret and have a national (or international) cult following. Even if both cases are true, a movie centered around such a band has a potentially limited audience, unless it's as whimsical a fantasy as this "history".

In a Brooklyn bar, Bill (Nils d'Aulaire) plays the banjo, singing songs in character as spaceman General Trius. At home, Trius is in the bedtime stories he tells his daughter Wren (Onata Aprile) - where Trius was sent from doomed planet Hondo to find a suitable new home for his people, using a virus to deal with any indigenous life. That plan went out the window when he heard Earth music, though. It's a cute story - except that another Hondo soldier, Kevin (Jay Klaitz), has just landed, looking to get things back on track.

I'm somewhat curious how this came together, as neither writer John Mitchell nor his co-director Jeremy Kipp Walker is in the band (or at least, not on-stage). Things actually wind up meshing fairly well - there's plenty of bluegrass music with quirky lyrics - and I don't think the filmmakers ever annoy the fans by cutting a song short - but not so much that the goofy sci-fi adventure in between feels like a strained, obligatory way to connect those numbers. The story's got other problems - I'm inclined toward forgiving how the scale of interplanetary distances is a matter of convenience, but not a certain bit of "character deliberately does something stupid even for him" plotting - but it's impressive that the movie seems like it would work equally well for fans of the music and folks looking for a sci-fi comedy and okay with there being songs.

The cast is a big part of that. Nils d'Aulair appears to be more musician than actor by his credits, and the film uses his consistent low-key, often deadpan delivery to its advantage, even as Jay Klaitz gets to play bigger and goofier, clowning in-character for laughs. There's something to it - Bill is denying who he is on multiple levels, while Kevin is an open book - and d'Aulaire and Klaitz are good enough (or right enough) to get it across. Julie Ann Emery and April L. Hernandez complement them nicely as the straight-laced wife and the annoyed cop they respectively love, while Onata Aprile's a charmer. Dee Snider has a fun and funny role as the owner of the bar where Bill (and later Kevin) plays.

The music is fun, too. I suspect that half the gag is that it's simple bluegrass with the characters talking about farming spaceworms rather than something more conventional, but the melody is good, the lyrics are funny without trying too hard, and d'Aulaire & Klaitz complement each other nicely. The score works pretty well too, not jarringly different from the songs but able to serve a different purpose.

Mitchell, Walker, and company do well with the tone, look, and (for the most part) pacing of the movie too. As much as they go for the Hondo stuff being goofy and toy-like at times, they also know when to stop making a joke of it and go for smooth effects or being serious about the danger.

I can't speak to how many fans Future Folk had before this movie started hitting festivals, or how much their existing fans like it. I had fun, though, and might just pick up their album... And that's got to be at least part of the goal, right?

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