Friday, March 16, 2012

Casa de Mi Padre (The House of My Father) [2012]

MPAA (R) CNS/USCCB () Roger Ebert (2 Stars) Fr. Dennis (0 Stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Roger Ebert's review -

Casa de Mi Padre (The House of My Father) directed by Matt Piedmont and written by Andrew Steele is and starring Will Farrell (all Gringos...) is perhaps a well-meaning if monumentally misguided comedy that's going to cause pain to countless Hispanic (Mexican-American and non) kids and teenagers across the United States for years to come.

All kinds off non-Hispanic viewers from the young to the old, from those thinking of themselves as progressive/liberal to those who are frankly racist are going to see this film and _think_ that by seeing it that they will "know" something of contemporary Mexican/Hispanic comedy and culture.  And they won't and won't be even close.

There is a lot of humor in this film that resembles the British humor of Monty Python and the Holy Grail [1975].  But most viewers of that film will instinctively understand that a man dressed as "King Arthur" skipping across a field with his servant banging two coconut shells together to make it sound like he's riding a horse is just a stupid joke that "of course King Arthur would really be riding a horse."

In Casa de Mi Padre, the dimwitted Armando (played by Will Farrell) repeatedly encounters "a talking white puma" in the desert.  This puma not represented by any living animal or even any CGI effects but rather by a large clumsy stuffed animal that one could win at a two bit carnival.  Further since it is a stuffed animal, it is moved around the screen by a more or less obvious off-screen hand making it move around the screen in exactly the same way that a 3 year old would move a stuffed animal that his/her dad won for him/her at said carnival er "fiesta."  Will viewers understand this to be a joke of the same kind as the "squire banging the two coconut shells together" behind "King Arthur" in Monty Python and the Holy Grail to pretend that King Arthur is riding a horse?  Or will many viewers not even realizing that this movie was written, directed and even starring in the lead role by Gringos say to themselves: "Those stupid Mexicans are so stupid that they had to use a stuffed animal to represent a real one in "their film?"  Of these kind of scenes racist stereotypes are born and fed ...

It would seem to me that when it comes to comedies about ethnicity of any kind there are really only two ways to go about it: (1) have the film be produced by people from the culture that it's about or (2) at least be accurate about the culture/subculture one's trying to represent.

IMHO this movie fails horribly on both counts.  Casa is not My Big Fat Greek Wedding [2002] written and starring Greek-American actress/screenwriter Nia Vardalos about growing-up the daughter of (Greek) immigrants in the United States.  It's not even Tyler Perry's Madea's Big Happy Family [2011] a comedy about written, directed and starring Tyler Perry and African-American writer, director, actor and even theater magnate about the challenges present in an African American family (though could easily be extended to any other family in America today).  Indeed, so good were both these comedies that they though they were set within the context of a particular culture/subculture, the issues involved/themes present easily translated ("crossed over") beyond that cultural/subcultural setting.

Instead, Casa de Mi Padre follows a long Hollywood tradition from the "Badges, we don't need no stinkin' badges" depiction of Mexican "banditos" posing as "federales" in the 1940s Humphrey Bogart movie Treasure of Sierra Madre [1948] and similarly appalling if at least without the pretension of "presenting to American audiences Mexican movie/telenovela culture" American comedies about/set in Mexico like the Chevy Chase, Steve Martin and Martin Short comedy The Three Amigos [1986] or the Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts and James Gandolfini comedy The Mexican [2011].   All these exist in a "Mexico" created and sustained by Hollywood with little connection to actual Mexico or Mexicans.

But Casa de Mi Padre is being sold as a "cross over" piece to introduce Americans who don't know (and have little to no interest in learning...) Spanish to Hispanic "telenovela culture."  Yet it's really a sloppy (and proudly so...) conflation of at least several genres that do play on Spanish language TV in the United States that seems to be designed to feed American preconceived and largely negative stereotypes:

There are some REALLY GREAT, really WHOLESOME, UTTERLY FAMILY FRIENDLY Mexican "cowboy stories" / "horse operas" that have been produced over years / decades in Mexico.  When I was learning Spanish, I just fell in love with the films of ranchera singers Antonio Aguilar (El Moro de Cumpas [1977]) and especially Vicente Fernandez (Hijo del Pueblo [1974], El Macho [1987], Como Mexico no hay Dos [1981], etc).  If one truly wants to enter into this subculture and really appreciate the beauty of the Mexican "Vacquero" (Spanish for "cowboy") way of life, I'd recommend these films.  But yes, presently you'd have to learn Spanish to see them...

Then there is also the Telenovela culture.  But anyone who actually follows the Spanish language telenovelas knows that they are orders infinitely more sophisticated than presented in this stupid comedy.

Let's just begin that most of the telenovelas aren't set "in the campos" (aren't set in the countryside).  Instead, they are often set among the jet set in state-of-the-art modern sections of cities that really exist across all of Latin America.  So one doesn't get this ridiculous incongruence of plopping the drop-dead beautiful actress Genesis Rodriguez (who plays the "love interest" Sonia in this film) into the middle of a farm somewhere in the middle of Mexico and expect the audience to buy this as credible.  Then yes, "narcos" (drug traffickers) do play a role in _some_ telenovelas but by no means in all or even a large number of them.

Finally, a far better "cross over" effort to allow non-Spanish speaking (and with no interest in learning Spanish...) Americans to Hispanic telenovela culture was the Ugly Betty [2006-2010] television series that starred America Ferrera and was produced by Salma HayekBetty La Fea [1999+] was a wildly popular telenovela that was playing on Spanish language TV when I was still stationed at an overwhelmingly Hispanic parish down in Kissimmee, FL (from the young to the old, everybody seemed to love it).  And Betty had absolutely nothing in common with something like this film Casa.

So overall, I'm rather appalled by this film.  And I would recommend that the next time a 'cross-over' film like this is seriously contemplated by Hollywood that it be written and directed by actual Hispanics.  How hard would it have been to ask someone like Salma Hayek, George Lopez, Robert Rodriguez, or Antonio Banderas for "a suggestion or two..."?


So what then is the film actually about? ;-)  Well:  Raul (played by Diego Luna), the younger and far more intelligent/successful son of Don Miguel Ernesto (played by Pedro Armendaris, Jr) returns home "to the rancho" with his drop dead gorgeous bride Sonia (played by Genesis Rodriguez).  Don Miguel Ernesto is ecstatic because he won't have to leave his ranch then to his dimwitted older son Armando (played by Will Farrell).  But Raul and, indeed, Sonia (tragically...), are involved in drug trafficking.  Much ensues... Finally dimwitted Armando has to stand-up, take down the evil "narco" (drug king-pin) nicknamed Onza (played by Gael Garcia Bernal) and "save the family name ..."  Much of this takes place in the "magical countryside" filled with among other things, the white stuffed animal puma mentioned above, similarly stuffed animal (actually more wolf-looking than coyote looking) coyotes, beautiful "oases" for just perfect love making (actually the "love scene" involving exclusively shot after shot of "butt cheeks," shot in all kinds of angles, is probably what makes the film R-rated but even most kids would find both stupid and hilarious... but parents do take note...) and plenty of campfire settings where dimwitted Armando and his similarly dimwitted best friends can drink lots and lots of tequila, break lots and lots tequila bottles and shoot their pistolas many, many times in the air ...

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  1. Father, I love about one out of 10 movies I see. I like perhaps five out of 10, but this is after rigorous scrutiny before I go. When I saw the trailer for this one, I knew I wouldn't even watch it on cable TV. I suppose the redeeming thing about your review is that you might save someone from wasting time, money and from disappointment. Give me a hint. Why did you see the film?

  2. Hi Dr. Mack. I saw the movie because I work in a heavily Hispanic parish and I'm also responsible for the youth group. Removing the Hispanic element from the movie, it's just stupid (not unlike a Monty Python movie). And I actually don't necessarily mind "stupid." (I loved Monty Python and the Holy Grail when I was a teen ...)

    The problem I see is that "Casa" is being billed as a parody of Spanish-language telenovelas. And that's simply not true (or it's a really _mean spirited_ parody). Most telenovelas playing on Telemundo or Univision are actually set in cities and are "ultramodern" with more in common with "Gossip Girl" or "90210" than any third rate Spaghetti Western.

    This is not to say that "Gossip Girl" or "90210" is exactly "high art." But the overwhelming message of "Casa" appears to me to be that "Mexicans are stupid and deserve to be laughed at."

    And I just find that wrong. I would also note that I reviewed and condemned a fair number of other films that made fun of "rednecks" as well.

    I don't see any value in films that encourage people to make fun of others.

    1. By the way, Father, I really appreciate that you take your pre-confirmands to feed the homeless. Also, thank you for your priestly ministry to your community. They are fortunate to have you.

    2. Hi Dr. George, Thanks but I also do understand your initial question. There are a number of films that I've chosen _not_ to see in the preceding weeks - Project X, 21 Jump Street. I also didn't see Silent House (though I did write something about it).

      Now why would I go see "The Devil Within" / "Underworld Awakening" or "Shark Night" for that matter ;-) and not "Project X" / "21 Jump Street"? ;-)

      I suppose, I draw the line at "would there be anything worthwhile for me to say about movie?

      The movies that I choose to see are movies that I feel that I'd have at least something to say about that could be useful to others.

      Project X / 21 Jump Street seemed to me complete nonsense and Silent House (as I did write) appears to repeat so much that has already been present in other recent films that it was hard for me to justify spending either the time or the money to see even an early matinee showing of the film.

      Now mind you, "The Devil Within" was _also_ complete nonsense but at least it had a "spiritual theme" and I could usefully point out the nonsense. Again, it's hard for me to find _anything_ positive at all to say about something like PX or 21JS (except I suppose, don't waste your money ... ;-)

      So that's I suppose my criterion ... Would there be something useful that I could say about a particular film? And if there isn't then there's obviously much better ways to use my time and otherwise limited resources.

      Take care and thanks for taking note ;-)

      Fr. Dennis

  3. The three films about "rednecks" that I reviewed last year were:

    SHARK NIGHT (0 Stars) -

    STRAW DOGS (1/2 Star) -

    TUCKER AND DALE VS EVIL (3 Stars, but only because the film took the point of view/side of the "rednecks" normally made fun of in these kinds of movies. As such, I did enjoy Tucker and Dale very much ;-) -