Rudo Y Cursi

 

Opens May 8

First the good news: “Rudo Y Cursi” (“Tough and Corny”), directed by Carlos Cuaron, is the first production of the new company Cha Cha Cha Films, headed by Alfonso Cuarón (the director’s brother), Alejandro González Iñárritu, and Guillermo del Toro, three of the most brilliant directors working today in world cinema.  As such, it should definitely be celebrated.

 

That said, unfortunately, “Rudo y Cursi” is a minor picture, thematically and artistically, a work that more than anything else reflects Carlos’ infatuation with popular American genres (sports biopics, Big City crime-gangster yarns, family melodramas), which he tries to place against an indigenous Mexican locale, albeit to little postive effect. 

 

What elevates this hybrid of a movie, which is Carlos’ directing feature debut, above the routine, but may not please harsh critics and may not justify the price of admission, is the reteaming of Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, who were both wonderful in Alfonso Cuaron’s far superior “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” a movie which has obviously served as a model to the new picture and not just in the casting or cursing.  Both thespians are charming, and it's pleasure to see Luna in a good role, after his disappointing turn as Harvey Milk's lover in “Milk.”

 

World-premiering in January at the 2009 Sundance Film Fest, “Rudo Y Cursi “ will be released on May 8, 2009 by Sony Pictures Classics as counter-programming.  Howver, there is danger that the movie will fall between the cracks for it’s not really a sports film and it’s not particularly satisfying as a siblings melodrama either.
 

“Rudo Y Cursi” is based on a gimmick, sort of casting against type. Initially Luna wished to play Cursi (Corny) and Garcia Bernal felt closer affinity with Rudo (Rough).  You can easily imagine the picture with the two thespians playing their favorite parts, but it still would not be a good film since the main problem is in the storytelling, which gets more formulaic and cliche as it goes along.

 

The tale of the brothers’ rise to fame and then decline is told against the context of poverty in Cihuatlán, in the State of Jalisco.  Tato and Beto are good-hearted but not too bright provincial half-brothers. García Bernal's “Cursi” (corny) is a romantic who dreams about going to Texas to pursue a successful singing career.  What makes him corny is that he likes music and wants to become famous as singer in order to earn his mother’s love and respect, which also will terminate his unbearable work at the banana plantation. On the other hand, he is talented soccer player but has no passion for it.  

 

In contrast, Rudo (Luna) is a married man and a father, who works as a farm foreman but loves gambling, drugs and women. The turning point in their lives occurs when a scout (Guillermo Francella) watches them play a local game and decides to promote their careers, upon which ruthless competition between the siblings begins and the bullying that had begun in their childhood just continues and then escalates.

 

Second half of the story switches from rural Mexico to the Big City of the capital and the world professional sports with all its corruption and decadence.  There are also chapters set in Texas, where Garcia Bernal essays a singing career, clad as a cowboy and crooning tunes like “I Want to Be Loved by You Now.”

 

A deceptively complex tale of rivalry and love-hate between two brothers, “Rudo Y Cursi” is actually a simple movie with some portentous and pretentious intents. Carlos wishes to use soccer as a metaphor for life, but also perceives life as metaphor for the game, trying to draw parallels between the penalties, corners, warnings, and rewards that are involved in both the game and factual reality.

 

Though aiming at a faithful portrait of contemporary Mexican society, “Rudo Y Cursi” is mostly a mildly successful comedy.  Originally, the movie was conceived as a mockumentary about Tato, a player from humble origins who attains glory within professional soccer but then disappears mysteriously only to later become a legendary celeb.  However, in order to work with both actors, Carlos and his co-writer Alfonso decided to change the story into one about two brothers-players who need to resolve some intimate familial issues before playing in front of a stadium full of spectators.

 

As a tyro helmer, Carlos, unlike his brother Alfono in “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” shows problems in navigating his story from comedy to melodrama, with many of the potentially farcical jokes falling flat.  The crime aspect of the melodrama also is problematic, particularly when Cursi encounters some nasty gangsters after his sister gets married to a drug lord, not to mention debts incurred from gambling losses and excessive drug habits.


To be fair, t
he movie has its share of amusing moments in depicting role reversal, showing how Cursi becomes tougher than Rudo, and how Rudo becomes cornier than Cursi.  And Carlos is successful in illustrating how and why goalkeepers are seldom in a winning position.  When they do their job well, they don’t get credit for it, and when the game goes wrong, they are the first to be blamed.

 

Whether intentionally or unintentionally, occasionally, the movie comes close to depicting an incestuous bond, particularly in the locker rooms, and curses like “faggot” only reaffirm that kind of reading.  Wathing those scenes, we recall fondly the splndid joint masterbation scene at the pool in “Y Tu Mama Tambine.” 

 

As a device, the sporadic narration is also semi-effective.  When Cursi beds his girlfriend (who’s TV host) on a kitchen countertop, we hear a voice intoning, “Loving a woman is like loving a ball—she requires control,” which is meant to be sardonic and funny but is not. 

 

It’s a safe bet to assume that the trio of supremely talented Cuaron, Del Toro and Innaritu saw the problems inherent in the diffuse, rambling text, but out of respect for Carlos and in the name of artistic integrity and creative freedom which they abide to in their own work, opted not to interfere too much in his movie.  I wish they had.