When the first trailer and news about Matt Piedmont’s Casa de mi Padre started arriving online, it almost seemed like an elaborate prank: a Spanish-language comedy starring Will Ferrell? Piedmont’s film was either A) too good to be true or B) a two-minute joke stretched to feature length, but it was impossible to tell based solely on the film’s marketing campaign. Well, Casa de mi Padre held its world premiere at SXSW 2012 yesterday, so we should now know precisely what it is…right? Eh, almost. Read on for our official Casa de mi Padre review, my gentle Examiner readers…
Reviewing comedy-on-film is never an easy task, mainly because the genre is so subjective (shut down the voting booths, people, we have a winner for “Internet’s Most Obvious Statement 2012”): what you find “hilarious” I might find “massively unfunny”, and vice versa; performers who do well with the masses might not appeal to comedy snobs, and the sort of comedians that comedy geeks enjoy don’t always play well with Middle America; what one considers “dirty” another might consider “not dirty enough”.
Comedy’s so subjective, the idea of publishing a “comedy review” borders on the absurd.
And now here’s Matt Piedmont’s Casa de mi Padre, a comedy that muddles the waters even further: The film stars one of the most divisive figures in comedy, Will Ferrell (I’m a fan, but God knows there are plenty of people out there who’d be happy if the former SNL star never made a film again); it does, in fact, get dirty, but not so much so that I ever felt offended (the only kind of comedy that offends me is unfunny comedy; see also: Carlos Mencia); it features subtitles, which some audiences (read: NASCAR fans) might find “not worth the effort”. It’s a total anomaly.
It’s also a bit harder to describe than I might’ve imagined going in. Here’s my best attempt: Casa de mi Padre is a lot like Anchorman by way of The Simpsons’ Bumblebee Man.
Imagine if the inherent weirdness of Anchorman got cranked up by, oh, ten or fifteen degrees. Now imagine that the humor’s main target isn’t sexism in 70’s newsrooms, but the melodrama you catch snatches of whenever you’re flipping past Telemundo on your TV. Now imagine that it’s been dosed with LSD, soaked in tequila, and that the film’s special effects ride a “different” bus to school than all the other kids. That’s Casa de mi Padre.
Things kick off with a James Bond-esque ballad based on the film’s title (sung, it should be noted, by Christina Aguilera), accompanied by some truly surreal opening credits. From there, we meet Ferrell’s Armando Alvarez, a well-meaning (but somewhat stupid) rancher living in Mexico. Armando’s brother, Raul (Diego Luna), is on the verge of marrying Sonia (a ridiculously-hot Genesis Rodriguez), and lingering jealousies between the brothers have them at odds. When Sonia’s uncle--a local drug lord named La Onza (Gael Garcia Bernal)-- decides that he wants his niece for himself (yup), things that were already melodramatic get extremely melodramatic.
That’s a really, really stripped-down version of the plot, but saying any more would ruin a few of the film’s pleasant surprises. And besides, you don’t really care about the story, do you? You want to know if the film’s funny, and on that front, I’ll say this: Casa de mi Padre is funny, but it’s more amusing than it is hilarious. I laughed during the film, but only a handful of times (compared to, say, 21 Jump Street, where I was laughing hysterically through 70% of the film’s running time), and everyone I spoke to after the screening seemed to agree on this point. If I were going to recommend the film—and I am—I’d try and sell you more on the film’s real strengths: its incredible strangeness and the uniqueness of the production.
Right from the beginning, Piedmont injects the film with that strangeness; the early scenes—where we’re meeting all the characters for the first time—can get downright bizarre, and are extremely reminiscent of the material in Adam McKay’s Anchorman. Other bits—like the a telekinetic, seemingly omnipotent panther and a wedding massacre that rivals the one in Tarantino’s Kill Bill—also reminded me of that flick. If you’re not a fan of “weird”, you’ll probably decide that you dislike the film about five minutes into it. Me, I went with it, but then I’m a fan of “weird”, Will Ferrell, and stuffed, talking panthers who can read minds and cure bullet wounds.
I’m guessing that most people watched the trailer for Casa de mi Padre and came away wondering one thing: can Will Ferrell really headline a Spanish-language comedy? The short answer is “Yes”: he delivers all the dialogue—as written, in Spanish—very well, so much so that I assumed (incorrectly) that the dude must’ve been a Spanish speaker prior to joining the film. I’ve heard some commenters talking about how “terrible” Ferrell’s delivery is, but as someone who speaks a fair amount of Spanish, it sounded pretty damn good to me.
It should be made clear that the film’s dialogue is subtitled 95% of the time (3% of the time, Nick Offerman—TV’s reigning “Best Character Ever”, Ron effing Swanson—is speaking English; the other 2% of the time, Nick Offerman is speaking a broken American version of “Spanish”), but this wasn’t a problem for me. It does give me pause, though. For one thing, I wonder if some of the jokes aren’t funnier in the native language. For another, I wonder if middle America will line up to “read a movie” (as the less enlightened amongst you might say).
I wonder, yes, but I also know that it doesn’t matter: clearly, Piedmont made Casa de mi Padre with an extremely limited budget (relative to most Will Ferrell comedies), and clearly the film wasn’t intended to be a blockbuster. Once you take into account the film’s unrelenting weirdness, its subtitles, and the main “target” of the film’s humor, I think it’s safe to say that Casa de mi Padre was intended as a niche comedy, something that might catch on when it hits DVD but won’t break any box office records in theaters.
It's hard to say whether or not you'll enjoy Casa de mi Padre. The film's neither hilarious nor a "two-minute joke stretched to feature length", but something in-between. If you’re a Ferrell fan—particularly if you’re an Anchorman fan—I’d strongly suggest that you give Casa de mi Padre a shot when it arrives this weekend. You’ll really dig the uniqueness of the production, you’ll probably find the film to be funny (in a not flat-out hilarious way), and you’ll certainly be blown away by the weirdest sex scene I’ve seen in years. But if you’re the type of cat that prefers a less weirdness, subtitles, and Ferrell-butt in your comedy, you’d do best to save your ticket money for 21 Jump Street instead.
My grade? B+
Stay tuned for more from the 2012 SXSW Film Festival, folks! We're going to have a ton of reviews, interviews, and on-site reports for you over the next week, including looks at 21 Jump Street (click for review), The Raid (click for review), Cabin in The Woods (click for review) a writeup on the opening of the Mondo Gallery, including an interview with Mondo's Justin Ishmael (click) and much, much more! Get "Subscribed" up top right now so you don't miss anything else!
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