Austin’s Fantastic Fest is an annual week-long celebration of horror, sci-fi, fantasy, stoner comedy, Asian semi-porn, and other non-mainstream genres — basically any movie that could be described as “awesome” or “insane.” The fare is often gruesome, raucous, and generally not for the faint of heart.
So it was a refreshing change of pace at the 2012 festival when the jury award for best screenplay and runner-up audience award for best film went to “The History of Future Folk,” a gentle and infectiously joyful family-friendly comedy about aliens who call off an invasion of Earth because they’re charmed by our music. You may not fall in love with the film, but I’d be surprised if you came out of it not feeling happier. In fact, if that happens, please watch it again. You must have done something wrong.
With a cheerfully low-budget aesthetic and zero pretense of being a “big” sci-fi movie, our story introduces us to Bill (Nils d’Aulaire), a seemingly ordinary New Yorker with a wife, Holly (Julie Ann Emery), and young daughter, Wren (Onata Aprile). By night, Bill plays the banjo and sings at bars, performing bluegrass music in character as an alien from the planet Hondo. It’s all very deadpan and silly — his space helmet is a bucket — and crowds enjoy the gimmick.
The thing is, everything he says in his onstage patter is true. His real name is General Trius. He was sent from Hondo several years ago to plan an attack, but changed his mind when he heard Earth’s music. No other planet in the galaxy has music, you see. No race of creatures other than humans has ever combined sounds in such a delightful way. Gen. Trius fell in love with music, with Earth, and soon with Holly. He’s been incognito as Bill ever since.
Now the leaders back on Hondo have sent another agent, an enthusiastic buffoon named Kevin (Jay Klaitz), to find out what happened to Gen. Trius and get the mission back on course. Naturally, all Trius has to do to win Kevin over to his point of view is play a few tunes for him on the banjo. This scene, featuring an assortment of familiar melodies ranging from folk to classical, perfectly captures the sheer joy of music, and Klaitz’s giddy delight at hearing it for the first time is wonderful. Kevin learns to play the guitar — evidently Hondonians have a natural talent for music, despite having none on their own planet — and they become a duo. They call themselves Future Folk.
The plot flows predictably from there: Bill and Kevin must convince Hondo not to invade Earth; Bill struggles with whether to tell Holly the truth about his background; Kevin falls in love with an Earth woman, a cop named Carmen (April L. Hernandez); and Future Folk starts to grow in popularity thanks to regular performances at a nightclub owned by Dee Snider (OK, a fictional character named Larry, played by the Twisted Sister frontman). Certain details defy logic, even within the framework of an aliens-from-space plot line, and Kevin’s efforts to woo Carmen could be seen as inappropriate. But the movie is so guileless and upbeat, its intentions so manifestly harmless, that it’s hard to find fault with it.
D’Aulaire, a non-actor whose day job is in advertising, and Klaitz, a working actor, have been performing as Future Folk in real life for the last several years, singing space-themed folk and bluegrass ditties of their own composition and talking about their former lives on Hondo. The film, written by John Mitchell and directed by Mitchell and Jeremy Kipp Walker, serves as their origin story, while also potentially exposing the duo’s music to a larger audience. And that’s a good thing, because it’s catchy, toe-tappin’ music, cleverly written and impeccably performed. Watch “The History of Future Folk” and see if you don’t find yourself humming and smiling for days afterward.
B+ (1 hr., 26 min.; )