'The History of Future Folk' is a pleasantly original ode to music as a unifying force for good
The History of Future Folk Variance Films
Director: John Mitchell and Jeremy Kipp Walker
Screenplay: John Mitchell
Starring: Nils d'Aulaire, Jay Klaitz, Julie Ann Emery, April Hernandez, Onata Aprile and Dee
Not rated / 1 hour, 26 minutes
Now playing in limited release and VOD
(out of four)
The History of Future Folk is like a clever intro to a concept album that was accidentally
extended into a comedy bit, got fleshed out into a fully formed backstory, and for some reason
got extended again, this time to feature length. And somehow, it works.
I haven't exactly calculated the odds on something like this actually succeeding, but let's just
agree they aren't good. Just think back to every Saturday Night Live sketch that got the big-screen treatment and you'll have a general idea.
Vaguely reminiscent of the anarchic spirit of Ola Simonsson and Johannes Stjärne Nilsson's
terrific Sound of Noise or something Tenacious D might try to pull off, Future Folk is a fish-out-of-water sci-fi epic masquerading as a deadpan hipster comedy. Or vice-versa.
A paean to the beauty of music and newfound love, the film has a distinctively childlike sense of
innocence. Fittingly, it all begins as a bedtime story. Thirtysomething Bill (Nils d'Aulaire) -
museum groundskeeper by day, musician by night - tells his young daughter Wren (Onana
Aprile) all about the legendary General Trius from the planet Hondo. As the story goes, Trius
was sent on a mission to save his race of people - with their home planet under threat of
devastation from an approaching comet - by destroying the people of Earth to make way for his
fellow Hondorians' presumptive new home. (Yeah, it's kind of like the plot of Man of Steel.)
But it turns out music can save the world after all, for just as Trius is about to unleash a virus to
wipe out humanity, he hears something magical. There is no such thing as music on Hondo, and
the great General Trius - wandering around what looks like a Costco, wearing his fire-engine red
Hondorian military uniform, complete with a shiny, bucket-like helmet - is entranced. So
entranced by the beauty of this new discovery, in fact, that he abandons his mission altogether
and becomes an adopted son of Earth.
As Bill tells the story to his young daughter,
there's a sadness in his eyes. "You know this is just a made-up story," he insists. But of course it
isn't. And of course Bill is the great General Trius, having created a false identity and blended in
with humanity for the past 11 years.
Well, the jig is finally up, as the Hondorians discover his whereabouts and send a bumbling
would-be assassin, Kevin (Jay Klaitz), to do what General Trius never could. That is, until he,
too, discovers the power of music, and he and Bill form a two-man bluegrass band that quickly
develops a passionate cult following among Brooklynites, all while on the run from the police.
If nothing else, The History of Future Folk is worth seeing for the music alone. But its charms
extend beyond just the soundtrack. There's a playful absurdity to the film's internal logic, from
the way these two displaced Hondorians instantaneously develop honed musical skills, to the
way Bill keeps all of his technologically advanced Hondorian equipment and research materials
hidden in a storage facility uptown, to the hilarious lengths Kevin goes to show his affection for
the woman he's pursuing - a foxy police officer (April Hernandez) who arrested him not long
after his arrival on Earth.
The History of Future Folk is not a virtuoso piece of filmmaking by any means, but it knows its
strengths and knows its limitations. There's a leisurely approach to the science-fiction, the-world-is-about-to-end part of the equation that tells us it is the least of the filmmakers' concerns.
It's there as the comical plot dressing, but it's not the heart of the film. Without descending into
a cloying reliance on "quirk" that has brought down countless other movies, writer/director John
Mitchell and co-director Jeremy Kipp Walker fashion a low-key and eminently likable fable that
wears its sense of naive romanticism - about music and about life - as a badge of honor.