The reteaming of Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna is enough to get me into a movie theater any day of the week; each of the actors are among their generation’s finest and most charismatic, and their initial team up in the classic Y Tu Mama Tambien ranks among my favorite onscreen pairings of the last decade. Add to that the fact that their new film, Rudo Y Cursi, is directed by Carlos Cuaron, who wrote Y Tu Mama with his brother Alfonso, and you end up with a movie that was certainly one of the must-sees of the fest.
I really liked Rudo Y Cursi, but the inevitable comparisons to Y Tu Mama will do the film no favors. This time Luna and Bernal are poor brothers working together on a banana farm. Luna is the alpha male of the two, a little high strung and with a very bad gambling habit. Bernal is the romantic dreamer who wants to one day become a famous singer. Both play soccer, and very well, but they assume they’re too old to pursue a career in the sport. That is until they meet Mr. Baton, a soccer scout who is amazed by their skill on the field. Luna – Rudo – is a brick wall as the goalie while Bernal – who gets the nickname Cursi (corny) when he goes professional – is a goal-making machine. Baton originally pits them against each other, saying he only has time to represent one of them, and thus begins a long war between the brothers. They both go professional, both acheive more than they could have ever dreamed, and eventually come head to head as their two teams meet for the first time. For each brother the game is a life or death battle.
Rudo Y Cursi is charming and fun, but never slight. The film gives a vibrant and real-feeling look into a slice of life in Mexico and into the world of soccer, a game that comes across as wild, political and sometimes more than a little nuts. Watching the film I felt like an American remake is inevitable (one brother would be a pitcher, the other a batter), but would lose what makes the movie special – it’s complete Mexicaness. Watching this movie is like taking an immersion course in south of the border life and culture. Rudo Y Cursi is the epitome of what I like about international cinema: I get a chance to enjoy a good story set in a place with which I’m not familiar.
The highlights of the film are the performances of Bernal and Luna. Seeing Luna as the darker character is a nice change, and the slight Bernal makes an adorable and layered dreamer who is unable to realize that soccer is where his talent lies, not singing. Cuaron does a good job of juggling the two actors, characters and stories, never leaving you wanting to get back to the other character too often. Each actor walks a tight, difficult line between comedy and drama, and they never err on one side or the other. The tone of Rudo Y Cursi is tough to nail down – it’s funny but it can also be tough minded and serious – and it’s a credit to Cuaron and his actors that the tough tone is negotiated so ably.
As enjoyable as the film is, it never really reaches the levels of greatness I had hoped for. It’s definitely more than a trifle, but I think that there’s an element missing – and I don’t know what it is – that keeps it from acheiving the upper limits for which it seems to be shooting.