Will Ferrell is possibly the most creative man working in comedy today. There you go, I said it. Allow me to convince you further. Will Ferrell has starred in some extremely funny movies about newscasters, race car drivers, step brothers, the NYPD, figure skating, minor league basketball, used car salesmen, male models, human elves, and coaching kids’ soccer. He’s also co-founder of the legendary comedy sketch site, Funny or Die. This year, he’s also starring in The Campaign, a film about two North Carolina senators with presidential aspirations that end up childishly competing for the top spot.
I think it’s pretty safe to say that Will Ferrell is a God in his arena, and has earned his fans through a lot of hard work. But as funny as he is, it was never imagined that he would make a film that could be considered “revolutionary” or “important”. The crazy part, though, is that he did, and it’s called Casa de mi Padre. What makes this film so important isn’t necessarily its screenplay, its cast, its director, or even really the film itself. It’s important because it’s one of the few, if not first, times that an American actor has tackled a completely different language for an entire movie, and spoken the language well.
Following rancher Armando Alvarez (Will Ferrell), Casa de mi Padre follows Armando as he tries to prove to his father, Miguel Ernesto (Pedro Armendariz Jr.) and his drug dealing brother, Raul (Diego Luna), that he is able to take on the rights and responsibilities of a respected man. After a long time away from home, Raul returns with his fiancee, Sonia (Genesis Rodriguez), a beautiful woman who isn’t actually in love with Raul, but with Armando. Raul’s return home is met with some bad news by his father. The Alvarez Ranch is deep in debt, and has no way of coming up with the money. Raul promises he will take care of everything, but Armando soon learns that Raul’s business isn’t exactly legal.
After learning of Sonia’s whereabouts and plans to marry Raul, The Onza (Gael Garcia Bernal), Mexico’s other richest and most ruthless drug dealer, devises a plan to kill Raul and get his woman back into his arms where she belongs. Now, it’s up to Armando save the day and get the respect from his family that he knows he deserves.
Casa de mi Padre is a sporadically hilarious and ultimately brilliant experiment for Will Ferrell, who has really taken a risk with this film. Stating that the film will actually have a bigger release in Mexico than in the United States, after seeing the film, I’ve almost realized why. The film really caters toward the Hispanic community. Many of the jokes will be lost on American audiences, and unless you speak or understand Spanish, much of the banter between best friends and long-time collaborators Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal will really just fly over your head.
As for Will Ferrell, he’s such a dedicated actor that he really does make the Spanish work. It’s evident through his other films that he’s always had an interest in Latin culture, but up until now he’s never been able to flesh out the ideas as much as he’s always wanted. Through Andrew Steele’s script and Matt Piedmont’s hilarious direction, Ferrell and the rest of the cast are able to really create a culturally astute and politically necessary film that suggests a step forward in the bond between the United States and Mexico. With all of the atrocities going on due to the cartel, it’s refreshing to see that two nations with such seemingly opposite ways of life are able to do something so unified.
Granted, not everything in the film works, with its script about half as funny as the ever-present physical comedy that Ferrell’s movies are known for, but the lack of laughs in the film’s first half is not only made up for in its second half, but can be overlooked due to the sheer brilliance of the premise and goal of Casa de mi Padre. At 84 minutes, the whole thing flies by with ease, but when I was walking out, I felt like I had just been a part of a life changing social experiment that would forever change the way I look at movies.
There are critics who are deeming the film racist towards Mexicans, racist towards Americans, and just all around racist. Allow me to retort. As a Mexican-American, I can honestly say, on both accounts, that Casa de mi Padre is not racist. In fact, it’s anything but. By poking fun at both Mexican and American cultures without being mean-spirited and obvious, the film finds a wonderful balance between culture and hilarity, offering a good dose of both that kept me involved and engaged.
The fresh gags and inspired performances from the entire cast puts Casa de mi Padre in the same league as other ingenious spoofs (or homages depending on how you look at it) like Black Dynamite, Machete, and Grindhouse. What really gets me about the accusations of racism is the fact that two years ago, when Machete was released, nobody claimed it was racist because it was made by a Mexican filmmaker, even though the jokes were just as concerned with Hispanic culture as they are in Casa de mi Padre. But now that white filmmakers are doing the joking, it’s considered racism.
It’s unfortunate that a film like this doesn’t get the recognition that it deserves. There really is a lot to love about Casa de mi Padre, but it seems like a lot of American critics just don’t fully understand all of the jokes, or the entire message portrayed in the film. If there was one line to really sum up what Casa de mi Padre is all about, it’d be an exchange between Armando and an FBI agent towards the end of the film. The agent tells Armando, “Not all Americans are bad,” which Armando responds to with, “Not all Mexicans are drug dealers.” Indeed, Will Ferrell. Indeed.