It’s been eight years since both Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal delivered their breakthrough performances in Alfonso Cuaron’s Y tu Mama Tambien, and now they’re finally sharing the silver screen once again in Rudo y Cursi, a film that is truly a family affair – both on and off the camera – in a hilarious and rather poignant way.
Aside from Luna and Bernal knowing each other personally for 25 years, they’re reuniting with two brothers who put them on the map eight years ago: Alfonso and Carlos Cuaron. Alfonso and Carlos both wrote Y tu Mama Tambien, with Alfonso directing (a breakthrough for him as well) and now it’s Carlos’ turn at the helm, writing and making his feature directorial debut with Rudo y Cursi. The film is also the first to be produced by the new production company Cha Cha Cha, formed by Mexican film icons Guillermo del Toro, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Alfonso Cuaron. The convergence of this new filmmaking family thankfully translates into a simply wonderful family on film as well.
The film revolves around the Verdusco brothers, Beto (Diego Luna), and Tato (Gael Garcia Bernal). While they both toil away working in a banana plantation near their impoverished Mexican village, they both have big dreams, with Beto dreaming of becoming a top-notch soccer goalie and Tato dreaming of becoming a singer, although he also shines as a striker on the soccer pitch as well. A chance encounter with a soccer talent scout named Baton (Guillermo Francella) gives Beto the opportunity he’s dreamed of… but Tato decides to screw him over and take the chance to be a pro footballer as well. However, it’s not long after that Beto gets his chance at the big time and before you know it, they are both soccer stars. Beto’s highly aggressive net-minding style earns him the nickname of Rudo (“Tough”) and Tato’s cornball post-goal antics and crooning earns him the name Cursi (“Corny”). However, as both their stars continue to rise, the brothers feel the strain of fame and their inner demons – Beto’s addictions to gambling and drugs and Tato’s addiction to fame and singing pipe dreams - start to take hold of their lives that start to slip away from them… and must put their personal differences aside to achieve glory once more.
The underlying story here really isn’t anything new, but writer-director Carlos Cuaron puts a twist on it all his own by looking at this bizarre Verdusco clan and at the same time delving into the maddening culture of soccer in Mexico, while still paralleling the same kind of story that we’ve seen before. Probably the most accurate way to describe Rudo y Cursi is that it’s a much MUCH funnier, Mexican version of Boogie Nights, substituting the sex for soccer. Boogie Nights was about a porn star, set in the drug-addled world of porn, but it wasn’t about the porn world, per se, just the people that inhabit it. Cuaron takes the same kind of take on the soccer world with this film. It’s also worth noting that we see Tato’s musical ambitions come to fruition in a Boogie Nights sort of way… with a hilarious video of him covering Cheap Trick’s “I Want You To Want Me”… on the accordion. Hilarity. The film is set in the world of soccer, but it wouldn’t be considered a soccer film like Goal or even Bend it Like Beckham. The film is really about the brothers Tato and Beto – their innate similarities and vast differences and they are just an absolute joy to watch.
Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal are simply forces to be reckoned with in this film. They have some of the most unbelievable comedic timing between each other and their off-beat yet passionate exchanges throughout the film, following their ups and downs, are nothing short of ingenious. While this kind of chemistry and timing does go hand-in-hand with the actors both knowing each other for many years, even still, these rapid-fire dialogue exchanges are extraordinary to watch, even to the point that two best-friend American actors, who have known each other for 25 years, would likely be hard-pressed to match the kind of acting symbiosis we see here. While there are a handful of fine smaller performances, like the lovely Jessica Mas as TV star/Tato’s girlfriend Maya, Dolores Heredia as Elvira, the brothers’ mother who each is always trying to impress more than the other and Adriana Paz as Tona, Beto’s wife, the only other performance of note comes from Guillermo Francella as Batuta, or “Baton.” Francella, a noted Mexican comedic actor, portrays this slimy, conniving soccer talent manager to wondrous perfection.
While Carlos Cuaron has written feature scripts before, this is his feature directorial debut, and this nuanced tapestry of a film makes me wonder why it took him so long to make this debut, because it’s clear that filmmaking talent runs in the Cuaron family. Cuaron manages to make a pretty old story seem vibrant and alive again, injecting the film with a lot more humor than I expected… and LOVED, but also managed to find a dramatic core, and even kind of shock us a bit with the rather unconventional ending that still is very plausible and just as authentic as the rest of the film feels.
Rudo y Cursi is a simply fantastic film full of unbridled energy, humor and dramatic power, all wrapped up into this little indie film that is a marvelous joy to watch from start to finish.
Rudo & Cursi is out December 19, 2008.