Rating: 1/5At the very least, Casa de mi Padre might be considered an interesting failure. Teaming up with writer Andrew Steele and director Matt Piedmont (two former “Saturday Night Live” writers), Will Ferrell stars in a movie that finds him speaking only in Spanish. In fact, aside from a few brief scenes, all the dialogue here is in Spanish. Moreover, the look and feel of the film parodies low-budget Mexican melodramas and telenovelas, and even if, like me, you’re only vaguely familiar with this parody’s reference points (as I suspect Steele and Piedmont largely are themselves), it doesn’t matter, because the particularities are largely beside the point. Case de mi Padre wittingly apes a style of cinema found in almost any developing country, certainly in India and Hong Kong, to name two prominent examples. The subtext here–the ineffectual fuel of the majority of the jokes–is the idea that these countries are poor compared to us and that their impoverished film studios churn out substandard product, which the masses nonetheless consume out of ignorance and lack of choice. The film wears its casual, Hollywood-backed cultural insensitivity on its sleeve, but what’s most revealing is just how patently unfunny it all is, like a man who can barely conceal his own racism behind a veneer of desperate jokes. The only thing interesting about Casa de mi Padre is assessing the extent of its disastrousness.
The film’s flimsy plot doesn’t offer much, and one senses that its creators regard the story’s cliched lack of creativity as some kind of crass token of authenticity. Ferrell plays Armando Alvarez, a dimwit who nonetheless saves the day after his brother Raul (Diego Luna) runs afoul of Mexican drug lord “La Onza” (Gael García Bernal). This story gives the impression that this is the way a typical gringo might view Mexico today, a mere playground for drug traffickers. In fact, the only other thing Mexicans are actually good at in Casa de Mi Padre besides profiting from the drug trade is serving as sexual objects: in addition to numerous buxom maids who, without explanation, inhabit Armando’s family estate, there is Sonia (Génesis Rodríguez), the beautiful fiancée of Raul and the woman with whom Armando naturally falls in love. Otherwise, Mexicans are bad at just about everything, especially making movies: one of Casa de mi Padre’s gimmicks is that the film was supposedly not made by Piedmont and his American crew but rather by actual Mexican filmmakers, whose ineptitude is on display at one point when an apology is displayed on the screen stating that their supposedly great footage cannot be shown for various outlandish reasons. The film’s numerous technical and tonal gaffes, all intentional but none of which are much amusing, become half-baked excuses for us to laugh at another country’s almost certainly implied inferiority.
It might not seem worth getting worked up over a film like Casa de mi Padre, but it’s not just the film’s unconcealed racism that appalls here. Instead, it offends me most as a lover of cinema. For instance, to depict a scene where Armando travels to the city, Piedmont films a model set with tiny, moving cars, establishing shots apparently being too sophisticated or costly for these impoverished Mexican filmmakers. I immediately recalled Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes, which includes a similar (and similarly fake) shot, and at that point I turned hostile to the Casa de mi Padre. It’s a seemingly benign film, cloaked in idiotic humor, but it betrays a “might makes right” type of belief that economic superiority (and thus also political influence) should dictate value, perfectly bolstering American hegemony. This attitude subtly encourages us to dismiss cultural products of the past (even Hitchcock’s gem of a film) as well as those from countries that simply cannot compete on a dollar-to-dollar level with Hollywood, which in turn is given carte blanche to churn out direly uncreative works unpunished and still maintain its market dominance. I felt nothing more overwhelming during the entirety of Casa de mi Padre than the wish that I was instead watching the kinds of Mexican films (or even telenovelas) that were being parodied. And as a lover of melodrama in general, I was perhaps most offended by the self-satisfied assumption made by Casa de mi Padre that all things melodramatic deserve our mocking scorn, an attitude that clearly betrays its makers’ own class anxieties.
It’s not that a film like Casa de mi Padre is in danger of spreading its racism, and that it therefore must be quarantined. Rather, films this bad should be used as opportunities to dissect the latest racism all around us. You pick up on small things here and there, such as the implication that things an average Mexican might value–family, God, community, ethics–are backwards, akin to superstitions. The film openly invites us to laugh at anything resembling these values, as if we were watching some ethnocentric documentary on “primitives.” And we can’t assume Piedmont and Steele’s parody to be merely an ill-conceived act of love and affection; the film’s grim attempts at humor reveal something more sinister. It’s hard to play off a scene like the wedding massacre as anything other than a display of contempt for people of color, mere extras and supporting players in a movie that’s actually about them. This embarrassing, nearly pathologically unfunny scene reveals the assumption that non-whites are the perfect fodder for such gratuitous cinematic slayings. At this point, one would be wise to get up, look around and consider to what ends the cinema is being exploited here. It wouldn’t be wrong to want to tear the movie theater apart from the inside, destroying the cursed apparatus projecting such foul ideology. Casa de mi Padre is so awful that it might make you question why you ever cherished movies in the first place.