Pick of the week: Will Ferrell’s incredibly strange Mexican adventure

Pick of the week: Don't overthink it. Just enjoy the faux-'70s Mex-ploitation wonders of "Casa de Mi Padre"

Topics: Our Picks: Movies, Movies, Mexico, Editor's Picks,

Pick of the week: Will Ferrell's incredibly strange Mexican adventureGenesis Rodriguez and Will Ferrell in "Casa de Mi Padre"

History will judge whether Will Ferrell’s decision to make a movie entirely in Spanish — and in loving imitation of a genre of Mexican film and TV that most English-speaking Americans have presumably never watched — goes down as an act of far-sighted demographic brilliance or a bizarre and pointless practical joke. Well, OK, it probably won’t. It’s already clear that most reviews of “Casa de Mi Padre” — which was written by Andrew Steele and directed by Matt Piedmont, both part of Ferrell’s “Saturday Night Live”/Funny or Die posse — will be tepid or worse. And mainstream audiences can completely be forgiven for wondering what the hell kind of movie this is and why it exists, and for feeling that they’re somehow not in on the joke.

Even when I proclaim that much of “Casa de Mi Padre” is not funny on purpose, and that people who complain about that are missing the point — well, I might be missing the point too, right? Will Ferrell became rich and famous as an entertainer who makes people laugh, and the audience that wants to watch him push outside that box, into some anxious zone of post-Situationist conceptual art, is probably a lot smaller. But Ferrell has been moving in that direction for a while. I’d argue that his best bits in “Anchorman” or “Talladega Nights” or “The Other Guys” or even way back in “Old School” come when he stretches beyond conventional comedy into strange and uncomfortable places. (He also played a straight dramatic role last year, in the universally ignored alcoholism drama “Everything Must Go.”)

But let’s get back to my original question: Is “Casa de Mi Padre” brilliant or pointless? Indubitably it’s both, as Ron Burgundy might put it. It’s a parody of something so specific that it never quite existed in the first place: the Mexican telenovela plus the spaghetti western plus the straight-to-VHS action flicks of the ’70s, maybe. If you fell asleep in the hot-tub time machine and woke up stoned in 1982, this is the movie you’d find yourself watching on some UHF channel (right after the soccer match between Tigres and Toluca). Some of its gags absolutely fall flat — having a climactic action scene replaced with still photos of miniatures is pretty funny, while an on-screen note apologizing for it is not — but considered as a whole it’s a wonderful and hilarious phenomenon, most of it is executed to Dadaist perfection.

You Might Also Like

“Casa de Mi Padre” gets funnier as it goes along, especially if you’re paying enough attention to notice the constant continuity errors, editing glitches, mismatched musical cues and recycled backdrops. It’s funniest of all if you speak at least a little Spanish, the better to appreciate Ferrell’s perfectly stilted line readings — if you want to look at it this way, he’s playing a bad actor, playing a dumb but noble character, in another language — or the delicious supporting performances of Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna as a pair of slime-oozing narcotraficantes. I have no idea how “Casa de Mi Padre” will play with Latino and Latin American audiences, but as Rene Rodriguez’s largely sympathetic review in the Miami Herald suggests, they’re likely to get a lot more of the gags. (Initial release of this film is limited to 600 or so theaters, many of them in heavily Latino areas of the West and Southwest.)

Ferrell, Piedmont and Steele have faithfully captured a certain strain of ’70s and ’80s Mexican pop entertainment, in which the rise of the drug lords (fueled in their turn by Yankee greed) is contrasted with a highly sentimental depiction of the rugged and noble Mexican spirit. That spirit is here embodied in Ferrell’s stolid and none-too-bright Armando Alvarez, a rancher in the rural north who pines for the approval of his landowner papa (legendary Mexican film and TV actor Pedro Armendáriz Jr., in his final role) and yearns for a woman who will love the land and water and starlit skies as he does. Armando delivers this monologue straight into the camera, while inspirational music abruptly kicks into gear on the soundtrack and his father and his sleazy, sideburn-wearing brother Raul (Luna) shift uneasily on their feet. But Raul’s ultra-hot Mexico City girlfriend, Sonia (Genesis Rodriguez, an actual Mexican soap star), is overcome with emotion. If no one else notices that she’s the woman for Armando, she does.

How you respond to that scene might determine how you feel about “Casa de Mi Padre.” It’s hammy, shamelessly melodramatic and technically inept (all of that intentionally) — but it’s supposed to work on you anyway, if you’ll let it. Similarly, a barroom confrontation between Armando, Raul and the supremely evil drug lord called La Onza (Bernal), begins as pure shtick and eventually becomes an evisceration of United States drug and immigration policy that would be completely impermissible in an American film. (I can’t remember which one of them first refers to Americans as a race of “shit-eating monster babies,” because I was laughing too hard.)

That moment of biting social criticism comes and goes, as does the dynamite norteño musical number “Yo No Se,” performed by Ferrell with Adrian Martinez and Efren Ramirez (playing a pair of loyal-sidekick ranch hands). There’s a completely unmotivated and splatterific shootout at a wedding, which tragically interrupts an awesome Spanish cover of “Whiter Shade of Pale,” performed by Venezuelan pop star José Luis Rodríguez (aka “La Puma”). There’s a vision quest led by an outrageously fake animatronic white leopard, and loaded up with the psychedelic, pseudo-Aztec claptrap that’s such a central element in Mexican pop culture. Then there’s the completely schizophrenic depiction of Americans, who are corrupt and mendacious morons in one scene, and John Wayne white knights in the next. (This movie was made by a bunch of gringos, but they’ve done their pinche homework.)

Inevitably, people are comparing “Casa de Mi Padre” to “Death Proof,” the fake ’70s exploitation flick that was Quentin Tarantino’s half of “Grindhouse.” (I would also suggest “Rubber,” French director Quentin Dupieux’s meta-meditation on the no-budget American horror film.) In both cases, asking what the point is becomes an unanswerable Zen koan: If you’re posing the question, the movie already didn’t work for you. I think the point of “Casa de Mi Padre” is that a major Hollywood comedy star made a preposterous and delightful low-budget movie in Spanish, for no reason except that the absurdity of the premise appealed to him, and because he wants to push his celebrity in unexpected directions. But maybe it’s not even that complicated. Maybe it’s just that when Bernal’s unctuous drug lord makes a phone call from poolside, surrounded by girls in tiny bikinis, he uses exactly the right ultra-high-tech toy from 30-odd years ago, and it’s beautiful and funny and expresses a lot of things without saying a word, and that’s quite enough.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>