Will Ferrell’s Failed Grindhouse Experiment
Because Talledega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby was the funniest movie to come out of the Bush era’s Red State/Blue State divide, I looked forward to Will Ferrell’s Casa de mi Padre, expecting another fresh cultural exploration. Hopes were dashed immediately at the opening credit sequence of fake print deterioration (dirt streaks, warped imagery)–an anachronism of the celluloid era before digital theatrical projection became standard.
Genesis and Will in Casa de mi Padre
What should have been an experiment in cross-cultural humor as Ferrell portrays Armando Alvarez, the doofus, least-favorite son of a Mexican patriarch (Pedro Armendariz), competes with his wastrel brother Raul (Diego Luna) and drug-dealer La Onze (Gael Garcia Bernal), never finds genuine cultural bearings. Unfortunately, Casa de mi Padre becomes a facetious parody of junk cinema; more silly, easy SNL parody. Instead of paying homage to the florid-funny Mexican melodramas that once played in Latino urban areas, Ferrell imitates the less imaginative, emotionally petty Tarantino-Rodriquez retread Grindhouse.
This wink-nudge condescension toward past filmmaking contradicts the decision to sustain a Spanish soundtrack and use of English-language subtitles. It could have been a cross-cultural triumph–especially for an era when movie subtitles are considered a post-literate nuisance. But by depicting the Alvarez family as clichés, Ferrell risks what, essentially, made cinema a globally popular art form–treating it like television. His attempted experiment of intersecting generational conflict, machismo and genre formula resembles the same mythic essence that David Gordon Green mocked in Your Highness. It might have commented on the current debate over borders and immigration (ingeniously dealt with in a Jack and Jill subplot, stupidly exploited in Rodriguez’ Machete). But no.
So the originality and authenticity of Talledega Nights are sacrificed to blooper reel sensibility. Ferrell and director Mark Piedmont (of the atrocious “Funny or Die” viral clips), base the film on absurdities–inept takes, poor edits, failed stunts–without demonstrating affection for the pleasures of genre excess. This attitude comes from TV and Internet triviality where culture is blurred to irrelevance (as when undiscriminating critics repeat the press kit memo citing telenovelas). But Casa de mi Padre actually insults cinema practice, spoofing gaffes as cinematic pleasure.
To read the full review visit City Arts here.
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