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Non-Review Review: Casa De Mi Padre

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2012. It was the first “surprise” film.

Will Ferrell’s Casa De Mi Padre is perhaps the most esoterical comedy ever produced. The comedian has his legion of loyal fans, but it’s difficult to imagine that there’s a large crossover between those who enjoy Ferrell’s work and those with an affection for Mexican telenovelas. Filmed in “Mexico Vision”, with pretty much all of the dialogue in Spanish (rather than, as one DEA agent puts it, “American”), the movie displays an astonishing commitment to its basic premise, which is effectively one joke sustained over its runtime. I can sense already that Ferrell’s latest project will be his most divisive to date, dividing film fans into “love it” or “hate it” camps. I fall strongly into the former.

A que no me alcanzas!

Festival organiser Grainne Humphreys deserves a massive amount of credit for both securing the film and deciding to show it in one of the festival’s two coveted “surprise film” slots. It’s hard to imagine that anybody in the audience was expecting they’d get a Spanish-language parody starring Will Ferrell. It was a bold choice, a controversial choice, and a divisive choice. And that was why it was brilliant. It wasn’t a film that anybody felt “meh” about. People walked out of the screening of the film, and people laughed and cheered.

I overheard several audience members talking about how they wanted to walk out the moment that they saw Will Ferrell’s face. Some, on the other hand, stayed through to the end of the credits wearing wide grins on their faces, clearly more than satisfied with the viewing experience. It would have been easier to pick a “safe” and more “conventional” choice, but Humphreys did an outstanding job in chosing the film.

El americano...

As for the film itself, it seems reasonable to say that you’ll either “get” it, or you won’t. The movie is pretty much one large gag that is played out over an hour and a bit. It’s a parody of a kind of media that most of us are only truly familiar with through snippets of parody in other forms of media. However, what delineates Ferrell’s work here, and what makes the film (to me) so boldly exceptional, is the deft commitment displayed by the script and by the cast. This isn’t a poorly-considered excuse to tie a bunch of stereotypes together, and those looking for silly antics inside the film may come away disappointed.

Instead, the entire movie is built around what might be described as a “meta-joke”, where the hilarity comes not from the witticisms or the jokes on screen, but from the way that the cast and crew deliver what might be the most brilliantly and hilariously stereotypical telenovela ever committed to film. Most of the jokes in the movie aren’t jokes based around characters or situations, but around actors and movie-making.

Viejo oeste...

Whenever our plucky lead is driving in his van, for example, the same truck always passes at the same interval into the shot. When a bunch of nefarious drug dealers ambush our hero in a clearing by a lake, you can see the wooden floorboards bending beneath their feet. During the song’s first big musical number, several instruments produce sounds that it would be impossible for them to make. The second big musical number is clearly a placeholder that was never quite finished before shooting wrapped, with both leads just singing “la.” A close-up on a DEA agent’s sunglasses reveals the behind-the-scenes staff. Our leads never ride horses, pulled along on wooden dummies and any riding done by obvious stunt doubles in long shots. Continuity is intentionally a mess, with characters resuming phone calls after hanging up a cut earlier.

The joke comes not from lampooning these conventions, but from playing them with the most ridiculous type of sincerity, creating the impression that we are watching the ultimate low-budget Mexican soap opera. Characters are always smoking and drinking, even in the middle of gunfights. Our hero drinks a strange exotic bear with a scorpion in the can. When our heroine hurdles through the air, the bad guy has time to light himself up a cigarette and start puffing. His final monologue is developed not to his opponents, but to the camera. A lavish family dinner features a collection of old friends and families, all conspicuously from other markets the movie might want to break into. The movie is populated with hilariously staged faux symbolism, with lion statues and even roses crying tears of blood, in a mockery of pretentious allusions of sophistication. I suspect that hardcore movie fans will get considerably more out of this than casual viewers, but the execution is certainly deft.

Un hombre y su caballo...

Indeed, it’s easy to imagine how the reaction to a film like this might have been different had it come from another creative team. If Lars Von Trier or Terrence Malick had declared that their next film would be a Mexican telenovela, with dialogue almost exclusively in Spanish, I suspect it would have been considered a movie of the utmost creative integrity. I think that Casa De Mi Padre represents a stunningly bold artistic move from Ferrell and company, regardless of what you ultimately make of it. It would have been infinitely easier to cut corners or to make the movie more accessible to mainstream audiences (more slapstick, less Spanish), but the cast and crew stuck to their guns and have produced a movie that is the closest a Will Ferrell comedy may ever come to being an arthouse film.

I suspect the film will not be treated as such by mainstream movie critics, if only because it is a comedy that stars Will Ferrell. I suspect it will be derided and mocked if it doesn’t succeed financially, and that it will be casually dismissed if it turns a profit. That’s a massive shame, considering the massive amount of creative risks involved in producing the movie. Regardless of what audiences and critics might make of it, I’d argue that it is a stunning artistic accomplishment for the cast and crew.

La Onza...

When was the last time that a comedy like this demonstrated this level of ambition? Or even this level or creative integrity? Sure, I’ll probably be alone in lauding the film in such terms, and I can understand that it’s not for everyone – but, after all, isn’t all true art divisive?

I don’t normally rate films, but the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival asks the audience to rank a film from 1 (worst) to 4 (best). In the interest of full and frank disclosure, I ranked this film: 4

(That grade comes with the “love it or hate it” warning repeated above, but I honestly couldn’t help but admire the integrity of the finished film.)

3 Responses

  1. For some reason I love all Will Ferrel’s Movies. Especially since I have watched step brother.

  2. Really looking forward to this. Thanks for the review!

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