Director: Matt Piedmont
Breaking the fourth wall is a daring choice to do a few times in a film. The minds behind Casa de mi Padre show that they are beyond bold, simply going for it again and again. This results in a very specific kind of comedy where you will either end up with a cramp from laughing or a feeling like everyone else around you is in on a joke you simply don’t get. This is a comedy that is utterly confident in it’s over-the-top direction. When you give Will Ferrell the star role and put the entire thing in Spanish, there appears to be no limits or control.
Armando (Will Ferrell) is a rancher in Mexico that receives little love or respect from his father, Miguel Ernesto (the late Pedro Armendáriz, Jr.). On the other hand, his brother, Raul (Diego Luna), is beloved by their father and when he brings home his girlfriend Sonia (Genesis Rodriguez), a feud is reawakened between the two siblings. Raul has had success, but Armando questions where it has come from and worries about disgracing his family’s name. When the druglord Onza (Gael Garcia Bernal) gets involved, everything starts to unravel for the family and a bloody war breaks out.
That’s a short and simple storyline, but the comedy is in the details. That’s where director Matt Piedmont and writer Andrew Steele go for broke. When Ferrell is around, his father often talks about him or to him as if he has very little understanding of Spanish. He calls him an idiot and many other things, all the while Ferrell’s Armando keeps a straight face. This crops up again and again, as Armando seems genuinely oblivious at times. Then there are the props. There is one particular scene that I will spoil for the sake of the review to get a point across.
Armando and his rancher friends oversee a murder by Onza from the cover of some cliffs. While the movie is clearly filmed on location, when they cut back to Armano and the others, the background behind them is clearly a painting. Then, when they decide to leave after the murder, you can hear the creak of the stage below them as they shuffle around and “leave.” Except, you can still see the curly locks of Manuel (Adrian Martinez) and so he starts to squat a little bit lower so the scene can properly finish. The comedy is straightforward and simplistic, but that is part of the brilliance.
One could view it as a deconstruction of modern cinema in how everything around is fake in a way. Sure it’s passed off as real, but we all know that when Spider-Man soars through the air, he isn’t actually in any real danger. To a lesser extent are the fake stages, the rolling treadmill background while driving a car, and much more. Then again, the humor is also dumbed down enough that it may just tickle your funny bone regardless of how you see it. This is definitely a film for film lovers. The filmmakers play with reflective surfaces where you might spot the crew, or continuity where a cut may show a margarita but when it comes back it is a tequila sunrise. Yet there is enough broad laughs that you could simply see this as nothing more than a slightly offensive straight comedy.
From the outside, Casa de mi Padre is something stunning in the conviction it has to its premise. Even if you simply don’t care for the experience, the fact that it actually exists is fascinating. Laughs are stretched out for no reason and Onza enjoys smoking two cigarettes at once. These things are never explained, of course.
Be prepared to read quite a few subtitles, as it isn’t a joke that this film is in Spanish. Yet the reward is a highly unusual homage to cinema and comedy in a way that you’ve likely never seen before. At the very least it is outlandish to behold and watching with a crowded theater will likely reward. If you realize this isn’t your cup of tea twenty minutes in, I have a warning: the tone stays that way throughout the 84-minute runtime. For me, that was a great reason to stick around for the ending.
Casa de mi Padre hits limited release on March 16th, 2012.
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