It wouldn’t surprise me if many of you have never heard of Casa de Mi Padre. This parody of telenovelas is almost entirely in Spanish (with English subtitles), and its tiny budget didn’t allow for a large advertising campaign. So what’s the big draw? For me, it was Will Ferrell spending an entire movie speaking Spanish. If you’re the type of person that finds that concept to be funny, then you’ll likely find some other enjoyable elements to this movie. For everyone else, I can easily see how the gag could grow tiring very quickly. But even if the comedy isn’t quite as plentiful as I would have preferred, there’s something charming about this low-fi comedy.
Ferrell plays Armando Alvarez, a Mexican rancher living on his father’s land. He’s a loveable lunkhead – a little slow, but he’s got a good heart. His younger brother Raul (Diego Luna) returns home with his new fiance, Sonia (Genesis Rodriguez), and plans to save their father’s failing ranch with some newfound money. But when Armando discovers that drugs are the source of his brother’s income and falls in love with Sonia, he must do what is necessary to protect her and his family’s land against the local drug lord, Onza (Gael Garcia Bernal).
While the premise may sound like a Funny or Die sketch, I do actually think there is more story here than could be contained in a short film. My issue was that even with a short 84 minute run time, this movie still felt a bit too long. The pace of a comedy should never drag, and this one felt like it could lose about twenty minutes and be a perfect length. But since even small budget features avoid run times of only an hour, the filmmakers tacked on some extra fluff I didn’t find totally necessary. (A run-in with a white mountain lion becomes a plot point that could have been removed completely.) But despite my issues with the length, there’s a homespun charm to the movie that provides a few laughs and adds to the DIY vibe. Backdrops that are obviously painted are mixed in with fake plants in the foreground, miniature cars drive through a model town, puppets are randomly used instead of real animals, and reels that go missing are all employed to occasionally give the film a nearly sweded feel.
Casa is funny, but it’s not quite up to par with most of Ferrell’s other work. A lot of my laughter came from the simplicity in his earnest delivery and his ability to play his character straight; rarely did the scenes that were intended to be funny really crack me up. A lot of the jokes are very specific to the telenovela style it’s sending up, which is fine, but I didn’t get all the inside jokes; it’s the same reason that people who aren’t obsessed with pop culture probably don’t find “Community” that funny. Slow zooms, wildly dramatic moments, random songs, soft-haze flashbacks, and slow motion gunfights made the audience members of Hispanic descent in my theater lose their collective sh*t, and from what I’ve seen on the segments of “The Soup” that highlight content from Univision and the like, those are all staples of that style of storytelling. There’s a great song sequence in the middle that has a nice Anchorman flourish, and Nick Offerman (Ron Swanson on NBC’s “Parks and Recreation”) was hysterical in a small role, delivering his lines in the worst Spanish accent I’ve ever heard. He wasn’t even trying, and that’s why it was funny – it reminded me of Brad Pitt’s character’s Italian accent near the end of Inglourious Basterds.
Bernal and Luna were very aware of the type of movie they were in, and both relished the chance to chew scenery at every turn. They’ve done much more high-profile, serious stuff before, but they – like everyone else – just looked like they were having a blast making this movie, and that infectiousness shone through. Genesis Rodriguez was also really great to watch, but for another reason entirely: she’s drop dead gorgeous. It’s hard for me to judge acting ability that isn’t spoken in my native tongue (and it’s especially difficult in a movie that’s a blatant parody, so she could have been overacting on purpose), so all I can tell you is that she was a convincing love interest.
Casa de Mi Padre has everything you’re probably looking for in a spoof of melodramatic Spanish soap operas: wedding murders, vision quests, mansion battles, and sex montages that include Will Ferrell’s bare ass for minutes on end. I just wish it had some more laughs. Until next time…