SXSW Film Review – Casa de mi Padre
It is not often you get to see true creativity coming out of Hollywood. Very few people have enough leverage to be able to do whatever they want regardless of how outrageous the idea is. Following his success in film and the massive success of his internet venture Funny or Die, Will Ferrell seems to have reached that level. Otherwise, the idea of him starring in a film in which he only speaks Spanish, as he does in Casa de mi Padre, never could’ve happened.
Ferrell is joined on this journey by Matt Piedmont and Andrew Steele, two veteran writers from Saturday Night Live. I tend to be an occasional SNL fan at best, but since they both expressed some skepticism about how to properly execute this idea early on, that gave me hope. The story follows Armando (Ferrell), who is a rancher on the land of his father Miguel Ernesto (played by Pedro Armendáriz Jr.). Armando is not respected by his father, and as the ranch has to deal with money problems, Armando’s brother Raul (played by Diego Luna), along with his girlfriend Sonia (played by Genesis Rodriguez), return to save the day. Except Raul’s past isn’t quite as clean as Armando and Migel Ernesto believe.
Before I saw this movie, people described it to me as the Spanish language version of Anchorman. I seem to be in the minority who didn’t love Anchorman, so this description didn’t necessarily sell me. I found Anchorman to be too over the top in its humor—but, while I don’t find that funny, I realize there is a huge market for it. While there are elements of that humor that are similar to that in Casa de mi Padre, I think the comparison was a bit inaccurate.
Casa de mi Padre is part parody film and part homage to telenovellas. It is part low-budget comedy, crossed with a Sam Peckinpah-style western. When I heard the premise, I thought it was going to be a complete joke, and while there is craziness present throughout the plot, there is also a decent story carrying it through. Sure, there is a traditional romantic storyline present, but the film also deals with issues such as family dysfunction, drug trafficking, and friendship…and sometimes the best way to raise topics for discussion is through humor.
Don’t let me give you the wrong impression and say there aren’t any parody-type jokes or that the movie isn’t crazy. When they are horseback riding, you can see that they are remaining stationary while the background moves behind them. An intentionally low-budget Jim Henson-style puppet is used as one of the important plot elements in the movie. But while the film is very unconventional, the craziness is kept in check. One of the major differences between Anchorman and Casa de mi Padre is the amount of improvisation that is present. Since Ferrell isn’t fluent in Spanish, he learned everything phonetically. This means he remains very close to the script, which is tremendously out of the norm for him. Personally, I really appreciate this, since my favorite Ferrell roles are they ones where he isn’t over the top (this is how I feel about Jim Carrey, as well). Sometimes a little bit of restraint goes a long way.
Will Ferrell may be the star of the movie, but a lot of the credit must be given to supporting players Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal. They don’t often play comedic roles, but the two of them possess fantastic timing. Additionally, you can see their great chemistry from working together for years. I think the movie certainly could’ve been improved with additional screen time for the two of them. Also, newcomer Genesis Rodriguez does an excellent job holding her own against Ferrell, and I expect good things from her going forward.
There are still some parts of the film I found to be too over the top, that could have been cut down. For instance, in one scene, Ferrell’s character goes on a drug trip that becomes so manic and crazy it felt like it was something out of House (1977). At times the film feels like it tries too hard to be crazy or to draw out laughs by doing wacky things for the sake of being wacky, but I found it to be most successful when it stayed closer to the true vibe of the movie.
Casa de mi Padre is one of those films that hinges on what types of expectations you have going into it. If you like Will Ferrell movies, you’ll probably love it, but even if you aren’t a fan of his over the top work, this might be restrained enough for you. If you like unconventional or creative films, it is probably worth a look. Personally, I had a lot of fun with it and like to see some people thinking outside of the box.
Final Grade: B
Also, be sure to check out our interview with Matt Piedmont and Andrew Steele of Casa de mi Padre from SXSW.