Casa de mi Padre begins with what seems to be an overtly obvious continuity error. Will Ferrell, Spanish now for Armando Alvarez, goes to pick up a brown calf. The camera cuts, and he returns to his horse and partners carrying back a black one. It seems ridiculous to make such a large goof in the first scene, until it starts happening again and again. With just $6 million in the budget and three weeks of shooting, the Spanish drama farce does not shy away from its poor movie quality, it embraces every part of it.
It takes a few minutes to realize the intentional low production value, and to accept the careless editing, set pieces, and live action sequences. But its obscurity is balanced by the equally unexpected dialect of the film’s protagonist, Will Ferrell. Speaking in Spanish tongue, slowly but effectively, Ferrell attempts to make his comedic crass persistent through a different language, and, through his squinted eyes and fake mariachi-ing, it generally works.
The film exploits the outrageously melodramatic Spanish telenovelas of today, which are then magnified to their extremes under director Matt Piedmont. Famous for his Funnyordie and SNL writing, Piedmont’s vision feels like a conglomeration of those skits, an extended parody cut into several “episodes” that get bookended by sentimental songs (Christina Aguilera provides the emphatic opening credits).
These mimic the highly stylized western Mexican soaps, as do the fake horses, looping green screen car backgrounds, and outlandishly bad animatronics used for a white lion, hearkening back to The Hangover’s tiger. There is something pleasing about watching bad attempts at realism when it’s the films desired effect.
Armando, the less favored rancher and son of Miguel Ernesto, an aging landowner, sees their plot of “tierra” dwindling as his father lacks finances. But just in time, the prodigal son Raul (Diego Luna) returns, with the promise to restore his family’s ranch. With a lovely lady Sonia (Genesis Rodriguez) whom he plans to marry, Raul stipends off his father’s fear. But Armando sees his brother’s dirty secret, someone caught up in the drug trade, and promptly seduces his wife-to-be with his own marital vision.
Causing more disruption is infamous drug dealer Onza (Gael Garcia Bernal), who demands to be taken seriously all while attempting to smoke two cigarettes at the same time. Bernal gets the chance to be at the top of the cocaine food chain for a change. His exaggerated lavishness and trigger happy demands threaten the family and Armando, whose perplexing white skin, tinted with late afternoon reddish hue, must play the hero.
For all of its sensual goofiness, Piedmont doesn’t shy away from the Mexican standoff. Inserting a dose of Tarantino’s ludicrous brutality and gore and flimsy romanticized dialogue a la The Three Amigos, Casa de mi Padre isn’t afraid to let the bullets leave their chambers. This is a western where shootouts aren’t performed from horseback and with a rifle. Instead the white steeds are Cadillac SUVs and the excess of machine guns contain surrealist slow-mo zooms of blood, entertainingly sputtering from inanimate objects.
Some of this farce material is plainly slapstick which plays to Ferrell’s strengths, but the film’s satirizing strong points are the cinematic displays of affection. Armando converses with Sonia merely for the viewer’s own experience, speaking to her with his back turned and face looking slightly off screen. He turns to look at her, but she parallels his spin. The two finish their coy pursuit with an overdramatic song, with “la” as the only lyric.
Sure it becomes a bit much by the end, but Ferrell always wants to kick the point home. Somehow, he keeps finding new ways to do it, even in español. The only kickback is that this time, it will be difficult to remember his best lines.