Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Overlooked Gems #50: Casa de mi Padre


Grade: 79 (B+)

Most comedies are cherished because they’re relentlessly funny. But others still deserve our attention because they’re so delightfully, uniquely odd that one can only marvel that they exist. Casa de mi Padre is such a film. Released mostly to indifference in March of 2012, Will Ferrell’s Spanish-language comedy/loving spoof of westerns and Spanish soap operas has to be one of the strangest films released within the realm of mainstream comedy. It’s also frequently laugh-out-loud funny and surprisingly sweet, and would rank as one of Ferrell’s finest works.

Armando Alvarez (Ferrell) is the dim-but-sweet son of Mexican rancher Senor Alvarez (Pedro Armendariz, Jr. in his final film before his death from cancer). Senor Alvarez greatly prefers Armando’s successful businessman brother Raul (Diego Luna), who has returned home with his fiancée Sonia (Genesis Rodriguez). But Armando learns that Raul is actually a drug dealer, and that his fierce rival La Onza (Luna’s Y Tu Mama Tambien co-star Gael Garcia Bernal) will stop at nothing to kill Raul. Soon it’s up to Armando to defend his family and his father’s house.

The film is filled with in-jokes for anyone who’s caught more than a couple of minutes of Spanish telenovelas: backgrounds are cheap, animals are clearly fake, plot twists are brazenly melodramatic, and characters laugh way too long for no discernable reason. But director Matt Piedmont and writer Andrew Steele don’t take the above-it-all attitude or lowbrow crassness that too often sinks modern film parodies. The film’s mix of good-natured ribbing and tribute to telenovelas even manages to achieve a strange sort of day-glo beauty. The film is even better when flat out surreal, as in a bizarre hallucination sequence that plays like a soap opera version of Jodorowsky.

The cast’s fierce committal to the material goes beyond being admirable into total comic brilliance- Luna and Bernal are clearly having a blast with their hilariously melodramatic villain roles, but neither one bats an eye or delivers any of their lines with a wink. Rodriguez is just as good, her experience with Spanish soap opera making her a natural here. Ferrell’s casting seems odd, considering his whiteness, but it plays both as a tribute to classic Spaghetti Westerns (which throw a few American stars amidst an Italian cast) and as a sly bit of subversion, as if the filmmakers tease that only bringing a gringo like Ferrell will get American audiences to tune in. Or maybe it’s just another one of the film’s great surreal jokes, like the cackling white jungle cat (clearly fake) that serves as Ferrell’s spiritual advisor. And if that doesn’t pique your interest, nothing will.

This film is available on Netflix Instant.

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