A film review by Craig J. Koban May 21, 2012


2012, R, 84 mins.


Armando: Will Ferrell / Onza: Gael Garcia Bernal / Raul: Diego Luna / Sonia: Genesis Rodriguez / Miguel Ernesto: Pedro Armendariz Jr.

Directed by Matt Piedmont / Written by Andrew Steele


In Spanish and English.

CASA DE MI PADRE is easily the greatest Will Ferrell Spanish language film of all-time.  

Maybe that’s perhaps it’s the only Spanish language film that the actor has ever partaken in.  HOUSE OF MY FATHER (the film’s title translation in English) is a spot-on precise and frequently hilarious spoof of telenovelas, classic Mexican westerns, and the entire sub-genre of B-grade and bargain basement budgeted grindhouse fare from the 1970’s.  And, yes, the entire film (well, most of it) is in Spanish with English subtitles, which is about as gleefully absurd of a creative choice by Ferrell as any in his career as an on-screen buffoon.   

This may see like a five-minute SNL sketch stretched out to an 84-minute film (Ferrell’s SNL alumni Andrew Steele and Matt Piedmont serve as writer and director respectively here).  Yet, there are two things that really surprised me about CASA DE MI PADRE: (a) it shows a real fondness for its targets while incisively mocking them and (b) Ferrell is shockingly adept speaking in a foreign tongue (he only had one month training prior to filming), which is maybe what makes the film come off as that much more hysterical.  Ferrell, of course, demands audiences to not take him or the story seriously at all, but the comedian commits himself to every solitary tacky moment of the film to the point where it comes off as weirdly inspiring.  CASA DE MI PADRE goes from a one-joke premise and morphs into a sly, subversive, and accomplished send-up of Telemundo soap operas and low rent revenge melodrama.  In a way, the film has an unabashed ambition to be as ambitionless as possible.   

The story opens with a title card that gets a cheap, but hearty, laugh (it proudly proclaims that the film was shot in “MexicoScope”) and takes us to a Mexico of what might be the modern era, even though the film’s anachronistic props, costumes, cars, etc. hints at the 70’s.  Ferrell plays thick sideburned and cowboy adorned Armando Alvarez, a south-of-the-border rancher that is considered to be the moronic black sheep of his family.  His father, Miguel (Pedro Armendariz Jr.) goes to great lengths to tell the poor and hapless Armando just how thick skulled he is and how beloved his brother, Raul (Diego Luna) is by comparison.  Raul is rich, powerful, respected by his family and friends, and has a luminous trophy wife, Sonia (the gorgeous Genesis Rodriguez) and when he returns home he is the toast of his family.  Armando, however, seems drawn to Sonia. 

Problems are afoot in Mexico: A local drug dealer named Onza (Gael Garcia Bernal) recently committed a brutal murder on Alvarez land, which leaves Miguel depressed and desperately yearning to have a “smart son” to deal with such treachery.  Initially, it seems that the convenient appearance of Raul will give some solace to his father’s woes, but Armando soon discovers that his sibling is actually involved in the drug trade himself, which he thinks will spell certain doom for the entire family.  Within no time, the nefarious business interests of Raul and Onza inevitably collide with one another and a violent turf war erupts between the two families.  If only…I dunno…the good and decent minded Armando could return honor and dignity to his once respectable family and, in the process, earn Sonia’s love. 



Most of the biggest laughs to be had in CASA DE MI PADRE come in the form of its willfulness to appropriate all of the amusingly amateurish production values, bungling editorial choices, over-the-top performance flourishes, and insipid direction of its targets to howlingly funny effect.   The film is wall-to-wall at times with ridiculously inspired moments: For example, the film employs usage of some beyond-obvious fake rear projection footage when characters are either in cars or on horse back, which echoes the similar type of production woes that have befallen many past and cheaply made westerns.  More often than not, the backdrops are so fake that you guffaw at their total lack of veracity.  At one point Armando and his posse drive into town in what glaringly appears to be a shot made up of models and little toy cars and in other shots of them on horseback the animals are so phony they would make Ed Wood Jr. blush with envy.  There are even skips and staccato jump cuts from reel to reel in the film, duplicating the look of a negative that has deteriorated on a shelf for far too long.  At one point – in the film’s most side-splitting gag – the image freezes and a long title card scrolls down the screen that offers a written apology from a crew member explaining why what would have been the most dramatic sequence in the film is regrettably missing. 

There are a handful of other improbably wacky moments of comic invention: a motif, of sorts, in the form of a “white cat” mountain lion appears at will though the story and is clearly a very stiff and inarticulate puppet.  Then there is a love scene between two characters that is made up almost completely of shots of the lovers derrières and when it runs out of ass shots we are actually fed footage of the man cavorting around on the ground with what appears to be a mannequin (which, in turn, deliriously takes shots at even modern films for how big name actors make usage of rear-end doubles).  The villain is also preposterously defined: in one scene he smokes not one, but two “Canadian Slims” dangling from his mouth at once…now this guy is really evil.   

The film’s infectious blend of stinging satire, affectionate homage, and high camp only works because of its really game performers at the helm.  What’s compelling about Ferrell here is, again, his apparent fluency with Spanish and how well he sort of cunningly underplays and overplays key scenes to get just the right reaction.  The film’s motive is to be true to its cheesy aesthetics and its cornball drama, and Ferrell’s gutsy performance holds true as well (that, and not too many other screen comedians would make a nostalgic throwback picture - done for $6 million, shot in under 30 days, and not in English). Genesis Rodriquez (who played a slinky burglar in MAN OF A LEDGE) maybe has the trickiest role in the film; she has to perpetually exude carnal sex appeal, be the constant straight man (or woman) to Ferrell’s camera-mugging ludicrousness, and, in the end, display a wink to the audience that she’s in on the gag.

At just under 90 minutes, CASA DE MI PADRE is mercifully brief; any longer and it could have been more of an endurance test than a subversively entertaining schlockfest.  This is one daffy and merrily ludicrous spoof that achieves as much high joviality as anything Ferrell has previously done.  More than his other past comedies, though, CASA DE MI PADRE has more silly invention and enterprising aspirations.  There’s something kind of admirably risky here in making an el-cheapo foreign language tribute to the el-cheapo films and TV shows that Ferrell and company loved to hate from decades’ past, which helps to erode criticisms of the film for being a simplistic stunt.  Oh, and CASA DE MI PADRE makes glorious usage of the artistically restraining MexicoScope like no other film.   

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