Siblings Beto (Diego Luna) and Tato (Gael García Bernal) are plucked from their provincial life as banana-pickers in rural Jalisco to play professional soccer in Mexico City in Carlos Cuarón’s Rudo y Cursi. A scout (Argentine actor and comedian Guillermo Francella) notices the brothers during a local soccer game, but decides to take only one to train professionally. Though easy-going Tato aspires to make it big as a singer, he lucks out and gets picked. Hot-headed Beto does eventually join him in the grandes ligas, though on a competing team. (As Beto’s and Tato’s celebrity rise, they’re given the monikers “Rudo”—“rough”– and “Cursi”—“cheesy”– based on their dispositions and playing styles in the press.) The entertaining comedy follows Rudo and Cursi from their modest beginning through the glitz, excesses and enticements of sports stardom, all the while competing with each other as rival siblings.
The film reunites Luna and García Bernal on-screen since their first film together the 2001 coming-of-age modern classic Y Tu Mamá También. In the last few years, the actors–who are friends and business partners off-screen–have launched an indie documentary film festival in Mexico City called Ambulante and a production company called Canana. (Canana production Sin Nombre is currently in theaters.) The actors were also reunited with virtually all of the film’s creators, since director and writer Cuarón also co-wrote YTMT along with his brother, the film’s director, Alfonso Cuarón, who is a producer of Rudo y Cursi. But those are the major connections to YTMT. Rudo y Cursi isn’t a sequel and to constantly compare it to its older sibling, if you will, is setting up for a disappointment: each has its strengths and shortcomings.
Luna and García Bernal prove they still have a natural, on-screen chemistry in Rudo y Cursi, as they first did in YTMT, despite the film’s uneven, at times, clunky plot. There are a couple of dead-end story lines, like Rudo’s wife’s herbal supplement business, that clutter and distract rather than support the story.
Also unfortunate is that the actors were cast in roles that seem counter-intuitive to their personalities. It proved too much of a leap for Luna to become the badass needed to make Beto credible as the rough-and-tough “Rudo”. At best, he comes across as peevish. García Bernal, on the other hand, ekes out enough of a performance for one to be able to imagine him as the simple Tato. Or maybe it is his singing of norteño-ed cover of Cheap Trick’s “I Want You To Want Me” that is most convincing? (That said, the Rudo y Cursi soundtrack—which doesn’t figure into the movie itself—boasts a chock-full roster of a who’s who of today’s Mexican alt-rock world that is a worthy addition to any music library if only as a reference for what’s going in Mexico.)
What the film does best, though, is demonstrate Mexicans’ (perhaps even Latin Americans’) love for futbol and its culture–even while depicting its dark side of bribed coaches and game-fixing. The inclusion narco subplot also seems particularly relevant at the moment considering the drug war happening in the country. Just as YTMT is a snapshot of youth and innocence at the dawn of the new century in Mexico, Rudo y Cursi also captures the times.