Casa de Mi Padre is a parody of Mexican B-movies and television dramas (think an amalgamation of El Mariachi and Steve Martin’s The Jerk and Three Amigos) and the makers of this comedy nod lovingly to the material it is ripping on, in the same way that Austin Powers made fun of the spy movies it spoofed. But with its almost entirely Spanish-language dialogue (with English subtitles) and jestful jabs at source material that mainstream America is mostly unfamiliar with, I don’t know how well this movie is going to play in Peoria.
Will Ferrell plays Armando Alvarez, a rube rancher competing with his drug-dealing brother (Diego Luna of Y Tu Mamá También) for the affections of his father (Pedro Armendáriz Jr. of The Mask of Zorro) and his brother’s fiancé (Genesis Rodriguez, who was the only good thing to say about Man on a Ledge). The movie also stars Efren Ramirez (who you’ll recognize as Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite) in a fun role as Armando’s sidekick. But the intentionally over-dramatic plot here is just a platform to showcase the gags, which for me were just hit & miss.
Ferrell, who did not know Spanish before making this movie, proves he is funny in any language and that his humor transcends dialogue. His goofy naive mannerisms are what make him appealing and he is the perfect person to play this role in this film that attempts to bridge the gap between American Main Street audiences and our Mexican neighbors by using the common language of comedy.
You don’t have to be a James Bond fan to get a lot of fun and laughs from a movie like Austin Powers, but there will be a a great deal of material that will sail right over your head, and that’s how I felt about Casa de Mi Padre. For certain, a lot of it was hilarious, but I’m not familiar enough with the Mexican ‘telenovelas’ to get a lot of the jokes, and that may prove a problem with many of the English-speaking audiences, who may not have the patience for Casa’s subtitles and in-joke nuances.
While Casa de Mi Padre is a full on comedy, it does have more than a little social commentary about Mexican and American relations. There is a particularly thought-provoking sequence between Armando, his brother Raul and the drug lord Onza (Gael García Bernal of Amores Perros) regarding their attitudes towards the gringos who buy their drugs that starkly reminds the American audience that we are own worst enemies. With the hot-button immigration issues on the surface of this election year’s politics, I would not be surprised to hear this movie mentioned by the campaigns on both sides.
A big surprise for me is how much I enjoyed the music of this film. Some of it is played as part of the joke, but the theme song of Casa de Mi Padre sung by Christina Aguilera was incredible, as was most of the soundtrack which includes a Spanish version of Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade of Pale, and several other gems that give the film the audio feel of a Quentin Tarantino flick.
I applaud Will Ferrell’s boldness for being in Casa de Mi Padre and there is a lot slapstick comedy to enjoy in this film, but admittedly there was quite a bit of it that was over my head and that, for me, missed the mark. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the targeted genre that is jabbed in this movie is likely to curb its appeal to a mass American audience.