After months of teasing, Casa de mi Padre was finally released over the weekend. Almost no one had high hopes for this film and, in light of the film itself, having that kind of mindset works in the end. That isn’t to say that the movie sucked; it didn’t, and Will Ferrell must be commended for his attempt to put a Mexican face on his usual antics. Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna are brilliant as usual since much of the comedy comes from a knowing spoofing of Mexican film and novela conventions. Both play it straight and on that level, it’s a minor success. The real issue seems to be the attempt to stay on that narrow path and a film like that can’t succeed within that limited scope.
Aside from that, the film fails to use its great supporting actors, the most glaring is Nick Offermann of Parks and Recreation fame. His role is basically a cameo and his side story feels tacked on.
Like I said, the movie isn’t bad, but the failures hold this movie back from what could have been a masterpiece. It’s chuckle-inducing and does achieve moments of greatness. (The song Yo No Se is quite a highlight.) Even the thin premise would have a chance, provided that there were enough jokes to distract us with.
If there’s anything that Casa de mi Padre and Terrence Malick’s Oscar nominated Tree of Life have in common, it’s that they both want their audiences to work harder than they’re used to. Tree of Life had a dinosaur in it, though, which was pretty awesome. But that’s not the point – the point, if I have one, is that Casa de mi Padre works because it asks the audience to be in on a joke that the film, for all appearances, is not in on itself. There is no winking at the audience, no third-act reveal that Will Ferrel’s character, Armando Alvarez, is actually an adopted gringo or an impersonator no one exposed, and no acknowledgement that Will Ferrel’s Spanish is anything but 100% perfect.
This is all to say that the film’s only real “joke” is that it’s playing nothing for laughs; there are a few great gags in the film, but overall what’s funny is that the special effects are exaggeratedly bad, that continuity doesn’t matter, and above all else, that no one is treating Will Ferrel as if he wasn’t as Mexican as anyone else. It’s aggressively nonsensical, and the movie pursues every “wrong” choice as wrongly as it can manage, but where its source material – cheesy telenovelas – seems to do that by accident, Casa de mi Padre celebrates it. This complete lack of irony extends itself even to performances – Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal’s characters wouldn’t have been out of place in less ridiculous versions of this movie. (I would fully watch a spin-off about La Onza.)
What I didn’t expect? Surprisingly pointed criticisms of the way Americans handle the Mexican drug war, from the DEA to “daddy’s little girl” getting high. It’s the film’s most successful use of the fact that Will Ferrel isn’t Mexican – coming from his character, or in reference to him, it’s like these criticisms are underlined and bolded. </distancingeffect></theory>
The movie’s not going to win any Oscars, but I’d say its well on its way to cult status. See it, but know that some parts are going to make you work harder than others to stay with the film. It all pays off.