At a quick glance, “Casa De Mi Padre” looks like an utterly racist movie. But then you see the angelic face of Gael Garcia Bernal, who plays La Onza, the evil drug lord, smoking two cigarettes at a time with utmost seriousness, and the skepticism cools. Then you have the sultry Genesis Rodriguez gazing off longingly at an artificial lake set (reminiscent of your third-grade shoebox diorama), and you will realize that the film is playing off stereotypes, satirizing the archetypal telenovela story of feuding brothers and the hopeless, romantic couple. If you’re not convinced yet, look to Will Ferrell, arguably one of the funniest American comedians of our time, slowly galloping on a machine horse, spouting off — to everyone’s surprise — pretty convincing Spanish.
Hollywood wouldn’t touch this movie with a ten-foot pole. The romantic adventure film reeks of cliche stereotypes of Mexican culture. The story is set on a family ranch where Armando Alvarez (Will Ferrell), an earnest ranchero with a gentle soul, falls in love with feisty, sexy Sonia (Genesis Rodriguez), the fiancee of his brother Raul (Diego Luna). Armando is the ugly, stupid duckling of the family and Raul the treasured star. But when financial troubles swathe the Alvarez household and Raul shows up to save the day, the esteemed brother’s business dealings unravel to be anything but legit. Raul defends himself to Armando — in Spanish, of course — by saying that a businessman and a drug lord are the same in Mexico.
Filmed within 23 days and on a budget of five million dollars, “Casa De Mi Padre” comes out on March 16 in only 375 theatres. Ferrell doesn’t really seem to care about the movie’s potentially low commercial success, and why should he? The acclaimed actor has the luxury of working on whatever he pleases, and being loved for it, whether that is a video clip of him being harassed by a frightening baby-landlord on “Funny or Die” or being the only acceptable replacement for Steve Carell in “The Office.”
“There’s a bigger release in Mexico. It would be great if the movie became a hit there and not so much here — that would make me laugh,” commented Ferrell during our interview.
This whimsical attitude permeates the entire 84 minutes of the film, blending a melodramatic plotline with the color palette of a spaghetti western. The animatronic mountain lion and purposely-crafted production mistakes scream of the artificiality of film, and point to how not serious this is all meant to be.
“Comedy is such a useful tool when you have a point of view and you understand the cultural issues. We wanted the movie, while being outlandish, to be satirical, and comment on our cliched view of Mexico,” said Ferrell.
If there are any verbalized stereotypes, it’s during the dimly lit bar scene when Armando laments the “crazy, shit-eating-monster babies” of America. Ferrell feels secure that the movie will not come across as racist, because there is “an understanding of cultural issues being a two way street.”
When asked if he had anyone in mind when portraying Armando, Ferrell responded: “The Latino press was heart-broken that I didn’t have a favorite soap opera star that I had studied. Diego Luna describes our approach like this — we’re like really bad actors trying to win an Academy Award.”
The less-than-amazing acting is apparent —whether you believe Luna saying it was intentional or not. Ferrell admits that acting came third, as his focus was set on memorizing lines in Spanish and polishing pronunciation. The language barrier hinders his performance, as Ferrell’s usual mastery of vocal intonations and knack for improv are almost completely absent. The chemistry of the crew is strained, as Latino members of the cast slow down their discourse to match Ferrell’s elementary pace. As Ferrell wished, his Spanish is not the joke of the movie, but a detracting feature nonetheless.
“Casa De Mi Padre” is like a very carefully made mistake. The movie may not end up being a blockbuster, but I hope that it won’t be chastised, misunderstood superficially as an offensive film. After all, aren’t we, America, finally ready to laugh together with our southern neighbors? Or is it still too soon for jokes?