Our bucketheaded saviors from beyond the stars stagger to the stage, weary after being relentlessly pursued while attempting to save multiple planets. They look out across the crowd, and begin to play a bluegrassy song with guitars and banjos about their secret origins. This scene epitomizes The History of Future Folk, directed by John Mitchell and Jeremy Kipp Walker, an absurdly unique and impressively well-made mash-up of sci-fi thriller, sweet romantic comedy, and tribute to the transformative power of music. If you took a particularly surreal episode of Flight of the Conchords and crossbred it with a low budget sci-fi movie written by Max Fischer from Rushmore, you’d arrive at this movie. Most importantly, you’d arrive at a fun film that wisely chooses to value the power of sincerity over the easy and shallow laughs of irony.
Mild-mannered father Bill (Nils d’Aulaire) isn’t just a quiet man who commutes many hours to work at an air and space museum, comes home to take care of his loving daughter, be with his beautiful wife, and occasionally rocks out with his banjo to a smattering of applause and bemused looks. In truth, Bill is General Trius, an alien from Hondo sent here to kill humanity so his race can leave their imperiled planet. Upon landing on Earth, Trius makes his way to Costco. Rather than seeing the slack-faced fleshpods wandering the big box store as more reason to wipe out all people everywhere, he happens to hear some music and immediately becomes entranced. There is no such thing as music on Hondo, and Trius can’t bring himself to destroy a people that have invented such a beautiful thing. Eleven years later, Trius is now living as Bill when interstellar assassin Kevin (Jay Klaitz) interrupts his domestic bliss by attempting to kill Bill and unleash the deadly virus. Kevin is exposed to music in a hilariously clever torture sequence that cycles through many known songs including Für Elise, Carmina Burana, and the Super Mario Bros. theme. Eventually, he joins Bill both on stage (forming the titular band, Future Folk) and in the pursuit of saving Earth and Hondo.
Despite these two inhabiting the familiar trope of a mostly detached hero and his wacky sidekick, d’Aulaire and Klaitz bring an authenticity to their roles — all while wearing costumes that look like DIY-budget 2001: A Space Odyssey spacesuits. The duo produces some excellent music (sounding akin to Appalachian versions of Jonathan Coulton) so Future Folks’ burgeoning fanbase actually feels justified. The film moves along quickly and wisely avoids a lot of “fish out of water” jokes that permeate many an Alf rerun. However, the film’s not perfect: there should be a bit more humor in a situation this absurd, no matter how straight it’s played. The central conflict’s resolution doesn’t do much to reinforce the theme of the power of music, choosing instead for a more simplistic answer to the pair’s problems. Not to mention a lengthy sequence that crosscuts between a tango and a fistfight would’ve felt clichéd a few decades ago.
Ultimately, though, these shortcomings don’t do much to take away from the charm of an otherwise pleasant film. Heck, even Dee Snider acquits himself nicely in a supporting role. (Though we will never forget or forgive you for Strangeland, Dee. Never.) Bill and Kevin perform their oddly sweet, autobiographical songs about farming space worms and fighting many-eyed creatures to a crowd of hipsters who are quick to laugh but who also slowly grow enamored with the sincerity of their performances. Audiences seeing The History of Future Folk will likely find themselves on a similar journey: laughing at its absurdity before eventually smiling at the simple but potent power of a good rock song sung in earnest.