When I saw an early trailer to "Casa De Mi Padre," about three months ago, I thought it was a Will Ferrell film where he will make fun of contemporary rachero/banda/narco culture. I was expecting a lot of racism and laughs at Mexican culture. I was expecting the worse. On my FB feed, a prominent scholar I look up to, posted about the film being racist based on their viewing of the trailer. They posted a scholarly article about how Hollywood makes fun of the Other's speech and builds films around that one joke. Other followers of this scholar's feed chimed in with their own thoughtful responses that also recognize this pattern in Hollywood of degrading cultures for laughs. After I saw "Casa De Mi Padre" I can say this film is not any of that. "Casa De Mi Padre" is a very Mexican film that happens to have Will Ferrel in it speaking Spanish as good as many (and better than some) Chicano/as.
The mainstream reviews mostly dissed or gave it luke warm like at best. I read one review that said it was a big inside joke that they didn't get. Well in a way it is a big inside joke.
To really understand the nuances and enjoy "Casa De Mi Padre" you need to have grown up having seen some 1970's Vicente Fernandez films and know the acting style and typical story lines of Mexican novelas. In other words, if you grew up with telenovelas and Mexican films playing in the background at your parents or anyone in your family homes then, this film will be chingon!
You will remember/recognize: the hats, fancy suits and boots, cheesy sets with fake rocks, mustaches, thick sideburns, slow but loyal side kicks, rasquache especial effects, bad editing, stiff or over the top acting, beautiful women and of course the cold machos and the sensitive machos. And if you enjoy Mexican retro disco chic, ala Mas Exitos , then you will love the soundtrack. Check this, there is a cameo by El Puma, for chrissakes!!! El Puma guey!
Let's get this out of the way, Will Ferrell's Spanish is almost as good as Erik Estrada's when he was on "Dos Caminos, Una Mujer."
Mexican legend Pedro Armendariz, new starlet Genesis Rodriguez (El Puma's real life daughter), and Mexi-Mega international film stars Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna lead the Mexican majority cast. Everyone plays it straight, so it is part homage, part satire. One witty scene gets socio-poli-critical and calls out America's drug addiction and reliance on Mexican suppliers. The seriousness of the massacres and violence of the Mexican drug wars needs to be addressed and comedy seems to be one way that hasn't gotten anyone killed.
"Casa de Mi Padre" is a pretty funny film in general. When I first saw it I immediately thought of "Austin Powers" and how that spoofed 70's spy films. If you did not grow up watching those films you may not have gotten ALL the jokes, but it was still funny.
I also thought of other films that I have recently viewed that have come out of Mexico that are taking on current issues and putting comedic twists. "Saving Private Perez." is a spoof of gangster films, in a Mexican narco context -where the money and power allows for a mission to Iraq to find a kidnapped brother. This is a funny film as well, but with the reality of violence and death in Mexico due to drug wars, cheering for a narco as a hero was a little weird.
Might be a trend?
I've always imagined writing a Western with strong Mexican or Chicano male characters in the vein of The Wild Bunch, or any of Clint Eastwood's westerns. A majority of Westerns are informed by the years surrounding the Civil War. There are also many stories that need to be told surrounding the Mexican-American War or Manifest Destiny on the West Coast. How did Mexicans, Natives, Mestizos, Mulattos, Blacks and Asians cope with the transition from being part of Mexico to being part of the US, the Gold Rush, violence and racism? What were those encounters like? The trickle of Hollywood films with Latino majority casts and relevant story lines has not improved much. Films such as the above serve a purpose. Think about the impact that Chalino Sanchez had on Chicano youth in South Central Los Angeles.
Sam Quinones wrote in his book "True Tales From Another Mexico" an essay on how Chalino Sanchez gave Chicano youth a strong role model that was street (and rancho) tough, carried a gun, had a distinct fashion, attitude and street power. Up until Chalino, Chicanos in South Central LA had black rappers as the only male figure they see daily on their streets and in the media. Many Chicanos in South Central adopted Black South Central LA hip hop culture to the point that they were known in the vernacular as Blackxicans. When Chalino offered another male figure with street power Chicanos flocked to him to reclaim their Mexican-ness and now have a male figure, for better or for worse, that they can see on their streets and in the media.
"Casa de Mi Padre" with its SNL and Mexican lineage has hit a mark that I hope will continue to provide relevant stories with talented Mexican/Chicano actors in the lead roles who offer something more than the typical, yet familiar to many. Mexicans in media are usually portrayed as immigrants from ranchos, what media ignores is the generations of Chicanos living in the US and the many Mexicans that migrated from Mexico's large urban cities. There are big differences between the Rancheros and the Mexican urbanites. Maybe that could be another film. For now go see "Casa de Mi Padre."