Rudo y Cursi
Stars Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna Re-Team for a Tale of Sibling Rivalry
Friday, May 15, 2009
Credit: Sony Pictures Classics
Rudo y Cursi (opening May 15 at Landmark's La Jolla Village Cinemas) was a sellout at the San Diego Latino Film Festival earlier this year. Some people might also characterize it as a sellout in terms of its artistic merits. But stars Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna could probably draw a crowd reading a phone book.
Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna won raves for their work in Alfonso Cuaron's Y Tu Mamá También back in 2001 (that film also packed the theater when it played at the SDLFF). Now the stars are reunited to play two brothers living in rural Mexico in a film directed by Alfonso Cuaron's brother Carlos. The film is produced by Cha Cha Cha Productions or the three musketeers of Mexico – Alfonso Cuaron, Guillermo Del Toro and Alejandro González Iñárritu. These three well-established filmmakers are doing their best to produce and encourage work from younger, less widely known Mexican filmmakers. Carlos had been one of the co-writers on Y Tu Mamá También but this marks his first feature-directing gig.
In the film, Garcia Bernal and Luna play Tato and Beto respectively. The title refers to the nicknames they pick up. Tato is Cursi or "corny," and Beto is Rudo or "tough." They live in poverty without much prospect for improvement. But they dream of building their mother a house on the beach. Tato also aspires to be a singer while Beto struggles with gambling. Then a talent scout comes to town and spots the brothers in a game of soccer. He makes them a deal – one of them can come with him and get a shot at fame and fortune on the futbol circuit. Tato goes first but Beto soon follows. Tato's a striker and Beto a goalie and guess what? They end up on opposite teams and end up having to face each other both on the field and off.
The clichés come quickly and without relief in this tale of brotherly rivalry and what-goes-up-must-come-down. Tato gets it all – money, fame, and a beautiful girlfriend who milks him for expensive things. Beto finds fame and money too but he gambles it away and makes a series of bad decisions. Along the way the brothers fight (the narrator reminds us that the first war was between brothers), part and come back together. You can pretty much figure out all that will happen in the first ten minutes. The one pleasant surprise is a cheesy music video Tato does, that was genuinely funny. Guillermo Francella tries to give some humanity to the talent scout.
Although soccer provides the backdrop, it's not really a soccer film. But the glimpse into Mexico's soccer world doesn't paint a pretty picture. There is an amusing moment when a fan threatens Tato if he doesn't play well and without missing a beat the angry fan than asks for an autograph. Soccer is much more than a game to these people, like hockey in Canada.
Cuaron does little to raise the film above the mundane. To make matters worse he can't decide if he wants to make a drama or a hick comedy that exploits stereotypes about Mexico's poor country folk. But he's lucky to have a pair of charismatic stars who at least make the film easier to watch. Both Garcia Bernal and Luna have been doing their own part to produce Mexican films, most recently serving as executive producers on Sin Nombre and Deficit. Their continued work together has given them an effective rapport on screen. We can easily buy into them as brothers because they seem like they have grown up together, even if their onscreen relationships are often tumultuous and conflicted. They work well off each other and are convincing even when the script and story aren't. Although they are on equal footing as actors, Luna does seems to have grown considerably taller than Bernal over the years.
Rudo y Cursi (rated R for pervasive language, sexual content and brief drug use) is disappointing because of the talented actors who end up wasting their time on what's at best a formulaic tale.
Companion viewing: Y Tu Mamá También, Bend It Like Beckham, Deficit
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