Rudo y Cursi sees the reunion of Carlos Cuarón, Gael Garcia Bernal, and Diego Luna, the triumvirate behind 2001’s critically acclaimed Y Tu Mamá También. With the same screenwriter and lead actors, it’s unsurprising that their newest film doesn’t stray far from their tested and proven formula.
In place of teenagers trying to escape the insecurity and banality of adolescent life, Rudo y Cursi features two grown brothers trying to escape the insecurity and banality of dead-end jobs. The vague, homoerotic undertones of Y Tu Mamá También are replaced with the love/hate relationship between the two siblings, and the competition for the affections of the cheering public takes the place of the competition for the affections of an older woman.
Fortunately, Rudo y Cursi is much less of an angst-ridden coming-of-age story than Y Tu Mamá También. Instead, it occupies a gray area between satire and a morality tale.
The story follows brothers Bento (Luna) and Tato (García Bernal), the titular “Rudo” and “Cursi,” respectively, as they are pulled abruptly from their rural Mexican village and made into soccer stars nearly overnight. This is all made possible by the wonderfully amusing talent agent Batuta (Guillermo Francella), who plays a sort of good-natured Mephistopheles. Batuta is one of the more captivating characters in the story, and what he lacks in depth he makes up for in charm.
The plot presents itself as a skewering of the cult of personality surrounding soccer stars and other celebrities in Mexico and, at the very least, the film succeeds on this level. Bemoaning their celebrity status, Bento and Tato’s backwater, small-town ways contrast hilariously with the slick, urban environment they have been thrust into.
Nevertheless, a disingenuous feeling pervades their rise to fame all the way up to the very top. Tato’s brief romance with a famous actress is ridiculously artificial and the plush casino where Bento cultivates a rampant gambling addiction is as visually absurd as its owner, who looks like he was plucked from a surfboard off the coast of California.
The film’s problems emerge when it attempts to straddle the gap between drama and satire. The goofs are too light-hearted for the film to successfully combine tragedy with its natural bedfellow, dark comedy. And even when the jokes are not so happy-go-lucky, Bento and Tato play them off with such a pronounced Beverly Hillbillies-esque flavor that I half-expected a mariachi version of the classic rimshot. The incongruous performances, especially when Bento and Tato have to make the stark transition from bumbling caricatures to tragic figures, further the jarring disconnects in the movie.
Unfortunately, some depth was sacrificed for Rudo y Cursi’s comic tone, but at least the heavier moments in the film prevent it from becoming too saccharine. It’s hard to fault Rudo y Cursi on the whole. Even though it lacks the coherent force of a more consistent drama/satire, the individual elements are sound. García Bernal and Luna both give convincing, entertaining performances, and if one character draws together the discordant pieces, it is always the ever-amusing Batuta. The comedy will make you laugh, the drama is mostly sincere, but much like the title’s English translation, the experience is alternatively rough and tacky.