"Well, it's completely absurd, you have to start there."
"There's an animatronic white tiger. At least, I think it's a white tiger."
"Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal play warring drug dealers and Diego Luna is also Will Ferrell's brother. I think his big brother."
"It's all in Spanish. Yes, the whole thing. There are subtitles."
"Yeah, Will Ferrell speaks Spanish the entire time too."
"I've never laughed so hard at a massacre scene."
"There's a few pretty amazing musical numbers."
"There's a lot of cigarette smoking. Sometimes multiple cigarettes at one time. The drug dealers smoke a brand called 'Canadian Slims.'"
"I think there was a mannequin involved in the sex scene."
Then I send them the trailer.
I have a good feeling about Casa de mi Padre. I didn't always have this feeling though. After the press screening, I'll admit I was confused. When a friendly girl who was probably employed by the studio or something asked me on my way out if I liked the movie, I had to be honest and say, "Well...it was interesting? Let me think about it."
Which is what I have been doing ever since.
In terms of a Will Ferrell movie, Casa de mi Padre is very plot driven. But we're talking about Will Ferrell, who is mostly a king of insane characters who sometimes stretch into movies gracefully (Anchor Man) and sometimes stretch awkwardly (Semi-Pro). Usually, though, all "plot" is driven by character. But Casa de mi Padre is a stretched out idea instead of a stretched out character so the idea -- what if we made a totally insane, beautiful, violent movie sort of like a telenovela mixed with a western in which Will Ferrell speaks Spanish? -- drives the plot.
So the plot is a basic, kind of familiar one, perfect for say, a movie you would watch in Spanish class in eighth grade: Armando (Will Ferrell) is a simple ranchero whose mother died under suspicious circumstances when he was a child. He lives with his father, who thinks he's a stupid failure (maybe because his Spanish is so rudimentary) on their ranch where they are frequently served drinks by scantily clad maids. Armando spends his days with his ranchero pals (one of whom is played by Efren Ramirez who you will recognize as Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite), rescuing calves and watching the local drug lord, La Onza (Gael Garcia Bernal), murder people. When Armando's brother (Diego Luna) returns to the ranch with his beautiful fiancé, Armando discovers that he too is a drug dealer and that his brother's fiancé is also the niece of La Onza. I know I said it's simple but it is also sort of complicated.
And then there are cigarettes and blood dripping from a white rose and a rousing song called "Yo No Se!" and the sex scene I mention before in which the girl turns into a mannequin but just for a second. And Molly Shannon yells out, "Mexico is the best-ico!"
A lot of really great stuff happens in Casa de mi Padre, more than I can even list, so don't worry, I haven't ruined the experience for you. And anyway, the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that once this movie completely bombs at the box office, it will become a cult classic, so you'll probably be watching it at least once a week for the rest of your life.
In an insane lucky break, I got to sit at a table with a few other people in the Ritz Carleton in San Francisco and ask Will Ferrell himself what he thought about who might actually see this movie. Here is what he said:
Here's the gem from that exchange: "...with the strength of the cast and myself in the movie, I thought for sure a major studio, at that price would say, 'oh yeah let's take a chance.' But no one bought it."
When he said that, it became clear why he was being interviewed by a bunch of not-really-anybodies in San Francisco. Why the film is being released more widely in Mexico than in the US. Why some of it is complete nonsense. And why ultimately, it is so good. Because Casa de mi Padre was really made for the love of making it, without a major studio trying to slide in a Pepsi can or a reasonable ending. Not to get bodies in theaters, not to make a ton of money (or any money for that matter). Just because Will Ferrell and his crew are at a point in their careers where they can take "only 5 million dollars" and do whatever they want with it.
And for me, the final product works, comedically, ideologically and aesthetically. Here is Will Ferrell talking about the visual style of the movie, a mix of low-budget sight gags, super saturated color, magical-looking sets and detailed visual effects:
I've liked pretty much everything Will Ferrell has done, from his cheerleader character on Saturday Night Live to the movie Stepbrothers. He consistently makes me laugh like a maniac. But I think Casa de mi Padre might be the next level of Will Ferrell, the level where he goes beyond what makes everyone happy and we get to see the totally insane inner-workings of his mind, where maybe his failures will be epic but his successes will also be epic. And sometimes they might even happen in the same movie.
I say we are lucky that instead of going the Adam Sandler route and pandering to the lowest common denominator by playing his own twin sister, Will Ferrell has decided to use his success to make the art he's always wanted to make, even if it makes half the audience squirm in their seats. And on that subject, I will let him have the final word:
Casa de mi Padre opens March 16 in limited theaters in the U.S. Go see it, hype it up, so your friends in the Midwest can get the big screen experience before they inevitably watch it 30 more times on Netflix.