Ferrell's Spanish film is typical fare
Will Ferrell plays a beleaguered Mexican rancher. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate Pictures
I wouldn't blame anyone for being a bit wary of Casa de mi Padre, a movie entirely in Spanish that features Will Ferrell in a Mexican telenovela-style comedy. Frankly, before viewing the film, the premise seems like a pretty decent idea for a Saturday Night Live sketch stretched too thin for a full-length film. In some ways, that's a completely fair assessment, and in other ways, it doesn't give the film enough credit.
Ferrell stars as Armando Alvarez, a rancher who has spent his life living and working on his father's land. His father (the late Pedro Armendáriz, Jr.) has always considered Armando the black sheep of the family, and when the farm falls on hard times, Armando's financially successful brother Raul (Diego Luna of Y Tu Mamá También) comes to help save the family farm. With him comes Sonia (Génesis Rodríguez), his fiancé who almost instantly develops a romantic interest in Armando. As Armando finds that his brother's success may not result from business savvy but instead from the drug trade, the family becomes wrapped up in a war with Mexico's most feared drug-lord, Onza (Gael García Bernal).
Honestly, of all aspects of the film, the story is the most irrelevant. Just look at the rest of Ferrell's classic roles: In Anchorman the story was a convenient way to let Ferrell act like he was in the 1970s and get other comedians around him. l pretty much ripped off Animal House in an attempt to let Ferrell act like a frat boy. Talladega Nights let him do his best racecar driver impersonation. Elf and Step Brothers, and even Semi-Pro and Blades of Glory (forgot about those, didn't you?) follow a similar pattern. My point? If you like Will Ferrell, you don't really care about what's happening in the movie, you just love seeing him act goofy and having a good time in different situations. Following in those footsteps, Casa de mi Padre is a welcome addition to the Ferrell catalogue.
Casa de mi Padre may seem like a risky venture because the whole film is in Spanish, subtitles can be distracting, and many of the jokes revolve around a style of television that people from the U.S. typically aren't used to. However, the real risk is in limiting Ferrell. He clearly still drives the film, but you can almost see the deep concentration in his face as he delivers his lines, and I can't imagine that he was able to ad-lib very well in Spanish. In an interview, Ferrell said that upon first read-through of the script he wondered what he had gotten himself into. Luckily, the supporting cast of mostly Mexican actors gets the joke and delivers absurdly dramatic overacting with ease. Farrell even applauded his fellow cast members, saying that their authenticity and background in Mexican television and movies allowed for him to easily immerse himself and feel more comfortable in the role. Just about every supporting cast member has a memorably funny moment, and this keeps the movie from getting too stale. Thanks to the efforts of a strong supporting cast, Ferrell isn't forced to do too much and the way he plays off actors who are clearly fluent in Spanish becomes a joke in and of itself.
The cast isn't the only source of humor. In Matt Piedmont's directorial debut, he seems to be on the same page as Ferrell. The sets are hilariously fake and would fit right in with the corniest Mexican telenovelas. The film randomly cuts and jumps at inopportune moments, furthering the low-production-quality aesthetic. Just about every one of Ferrell's costumes is laugh-out-loud funny. And the few musical numbers are good for a couple laughs before overstaying their welcome.
Admittedly, after 84 minutes the audience is ready for the movie to end. The schtick gets old at times and it's not until other actors shoulder some of the comedic load that the same jokes and aesthetics become funny again. Ferrell delivering lines in Spanish with strained outlandishness and a mock-intense look is funny, but it works best when we're least expecting it.
Grading a movie like Casa de mi Padre seems unfair. The jokes are easy, the characters are one-dimensional parodies, and absurd sets aren't enough to make a movie watchable. Yet the film doesn't seem to have goals that are too lofty and as such, pleasantly surprises. By Ferrell's own admission, he'd be happy with this film becoming a small cult hit. This is a comedic movie that is as fun to watch as it must have been to make. If you go into the movie not expecting too much, you might find yourself having a good time.
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