Jeff Smith 2 p.m., Dec. 18
Review: Casa de Mi Padre
I had a good time at Casa de Mi Padre, Will Ferrell's semi-send-up of Mexican telenovelas (filmed, we are told at the outset, in MexicoScope). By the end of this review, I think you'll have a pretty good idea if you will, too.
There are several layers of humor at work here. The first, and finest, is made from from Ferrell's straight-up performance as a Mexican ranchero. It's a role that has him making impassioned declarations like, "I'll take care of my family. I'll let the devil take care of you!" And again, later, "You came from trouble, and you carry it with you." It's not the sort of thing that brings guffaws, but damn if it isn't delightful. I was grinning for probably half the movie just because Ferrell gave himself to the role.
The second, easier layer imitates florid telenovela story elements. A boy's father gives him his own father's gun and tells the child to protect his mother; when bandits arrive, the hapless child accidentally kills her. True love, the dignity of the land, family honor, rival brothers, creepy uncles - it's all here. If we didn't know better, we'd call it old-fashioned gothic storytelling. But we do know better, and that's the fun of it.
The third layer is even less complicated: mockery of the genre's more outlandish visual techniques. Say, a slow-motion bloodbath at a wedding that finishes on a closeup of a white rose dripping blood, or an extended series of super-close reaction shots (so close that all we see are eyeballs).
Let's just number 'em from here on out, and maybe give an example or two.
Four: hackneyed expositional speech: "We are close brothers!" announces one brother to another when they meet.
Five: cheap production techniques. Obviously painted backdrops, fake flowers adorned with fake butterflies in a pastoral setting, a surprisingly moving animatronic white jaguar.
Six: poor film and sound editing. Just a second before the dubbing kicks in on Ferrell's trumpet solo, we hear him actually try to play.
Seven: general Mexican mockery. A stuffed squirrel on the mantel, a portrait of Mom holding a statue of the baby Jesus.
Eight: jabbing honesty amid the silliness. Ferrell's rant about stupid Americans works precisely because he is playing a Mexican. "They buy houses with no money..."
Ten: Airplane!-style exaggeration. One ranchero smashes his bottle after draining it. The others follow suit. Suddenly, there are hundreds of bottles for the three rancheros to smash.
Eleven: general insanity. Ferrell's spirit journey is...out there.
I'll stop here, and add only that all of these layers hold up only because they rest on the foundation of that first one. There is a real (if B-grade) story here, and the actors tell it almost without a wink. The finale drags, as finales do, and the humor gets long and low in places (see Layer Ten). But as I said, I had a good time.
p.s. Yes, it's in Spanish.
Reader rating: two stars.