Casa De Mi Padre is at its best when it’s at its silliest. Before the movie even begins, it’s built on a novelty since Will Ferrell spends the entire film speaking Spanish. Ferrell’s comic talent means he doesn’t simply coast on “Yo soy habla Español!” He knows how to play the melodrama, the faux-dramatic pauses, and other comic skills we’ve come to expect from a pro like Ferrell. Director Matt Piedmont and writer Andrew Steele want to milk the cheesy 70s mexsploitation/peliculanovela for every ounce of comedy, but the biggest laughs come not from the concept but from the goofy little moments scattered throughout the movie.
Armando Alvarez (Ferrell) is an honest Mexican rancher, but his father Miguel Ernesto (Pedro Armendáriz Jr.) and brother Raul (Diego Luna) think he’s also an idiot and a coward. Armando still loves his family, but when Raul brings home his new girlfriend Sonia (Genesis Rodriguez), the mysterious woman spurs a fiery clash of emotions in heart. Matters are further complicated when Armando learns that Raul is moving into the drug trade and encroaching on the territory of the dangerous local kingpin, Onza (Gael Garcia Bernal). Armando must man up and become more than a simple rancher in order to win Sonia’s heart and save his family’s home.
Like any self-respecting spoof, all the performances are played straight and the writing and direction does the winking at the audience. The actors all go into melodrama mode and caress each line of dialogue as if it smoldered with sexuality. It’s a nice break for Ferrell since it prevents him from going into “screaming mode” where his comic delivery is all shouting. However, there are moments when the performance and the tone start to stumble into the territory of an overly-long Saturday Night Live sketch.
The melodrama is what catches the movie into the SNL-sketch trap, and Piedmont tries to pull his movie free by putting more emphasis on the parody of the niche film genre. Letting Casa de mi Padre play to the cinematic aspects of the peliculanovela rather than the predictable narrative gives allows the movie to be more bizarre. Since the genre is already goofy, pushing it further into the absurd gives Piedmont’s movie a spark of creativity and imagination. In these moments, Piedmont finds the balance to go all in and play up the cheap sets, special effects, and animatronic puppets. The movie also provides room for other actors to shine, and Bernal, who plays against expectations by not making his drug kingpin a total psycho, manages to outshine Ferrell (there’s one scene involving multiple cigarettes that’s one of the best parts of the film).
Sadly, all novelties wear off and the comically-terrible tone begins to wear thin. It’s more rewarding to Watching Armando constantly fail at rolling a cigarette is much funnier than watching him play into overcooked melodrama because the failed cigarette gag is distinct and original whereas the melodrama feels constrained by the premise. The entire movie has to adhere to the melodrama, Ferrell speaking Spanish, the exploitation style. Those aspects aren’t enough to sustain Casa de mi Padre for its duration. But watching Gael Garcia Bernal play a parody of a Mexican drug kingpin could sustain a Scarface-sized epic.
For all of our SXSW 2012 coverage, click here. Also, here are links to all of my SXSW reviews so far:
- The Aggression Scale
- The Babymakers
- The Cabin in the Woods
- The Do-Deca-Pentathalon
- Hunky Dory
- Iron Sky
- Lovely Molly
- The Sheik and I
- Small Apartments
- The Source
- Welcome to the Machine