Rudo and Cursi

Reviewed By Mel Valentin
Posted 05/09/09 04:46:56

"Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, together again."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 52ND SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Rudo y Cursi," a comedy-drama written and directed by Carlos Cuarón, the younger brother of Alfonso Cuarón ("Children of Men," "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," "Y Tu Mamá También," "The Little Princess"), reunites Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna, longtime friends and the co-stars of Alfonso Cuarón’s "Y Tu Mamá También." While Luna’s acting career since then has been admirable for its breadth and depth, Bernal emerged from "Y Tu Mamá También" as an international star and heartthrob. Fans of one or both actors will be more than pleased to see them together again, but it’s Cuarón's affecting cautionary tale that will remain with them long after the screen has gone dark and moviegoers are ambling out onto the night-time streets.

Tato “Cursi” (Gael García Bernal) and Beto “Rudo” Verdusco (Diego Luna) are half-brothers who live and work together in a small village on the coast of Mexico. Both men work at a nearby banana plantation, Tato as a laborer and Beto as a foreman. Both make a pittance. Personality wise, the brothers couldn’t be more different. Where Tato is relaxed, easy-going, and gentle, Beto is assertive, temperamental, and anxious. Tato dreams of becoming a singer or, barring that, journey up north, illegally, into the United States. Beto dreams of becoming a goaltender for a big-city team. Their dreams seem just that, dreams to distract them from the harsh realities of everyday life. Tato has passion, but little singing talent. What he does have, however, is a natural skill as a ball handler and scorer. Tato’s on-field aggressiveness is reflected in his gambling habit.

Both men seem destined to live out their entire lives as dreamers until a roving talent scout, Dario “Batuta” Vidali (Guillermo Francella), arrives in their village. Quick to see talent where others don’t, Batuta claims he wants to bring Tato and Beto back to Mexico City, but can only bring one. Beto suggests a penalty kick. In the first of many misunderstandings, Beto tells Tato to aim right, so he can stop the ball from entering the net and gain Batuta’s representation. Tato does, but to his right. Tato leaves with Batuta and quickly earns a spot on a first division team, Deportivo Amaranto (“Amaranto Club”), but becomes quickly frustrated when the coach refuses to let him play. When Batuta offers to help him record a song (and a video), Tato plays with renewed energy and goes on a scoring spree, quickly becoming a national sensation. The tabloids christen Tato “Cursi” (Spanish slang for “corny”) for his oddball, post-goal celebrations.

Beto gets his chance too, eventually, thanks to Tato’s intervention with Batuta. Beto ultimately joins a second division team, Atlético Nopaleros (Nopaleros Team). After some minor missteps, Beto becomes the goalie for the team and succeeds as well. With money, however, comes temptation: Beto joins an “exclusive” high-stakes, private casino and quickly goes into debt. The naïve Tato falls in love with Maya (Jessica Mas), a beautiful, if vapid, Puerto Rican newscaster and celebrity who he lavishes with expensive gifts. Post-success, the brothers return briefly to their village, where they attempt to outdo each other in describing the house they’ll build for their mother, Elvira (Dolores Heredia). With the promotion of Beto’s team to the first division, a clash between the combative, competitive half-brothers seems inevitable (because it is).

In Cuarón’s hands, the inevitable, however, has elements of drama, tragedy, and comedy, often in the same scene. To the casual moviegoer, Rudo y Cursi is a comedy-drama about competitive brothers set against the backdrop of Mexico’s national obsession, soccer (or football, if you prefer). On another level, Rudo y Cursi satirizes the Mexican (actually universal) celebration of sports and sports celebrities, of small-town villagers with oversized dreams of big-city success (most of which fail), and hiding in the background, the Mexican drug trade that shapes and reshapes lives, often in unexpected ways (and not always negatively).

That Cuarón leaves the anti-drug trafficking sermon unspoken isn’t, however, an endorsement of the drug trade or drug traffickers, only the recognition that reality is far more complex and unmanageable than we’d like to think. The lack of sermonizing is just one example of Cuarón’s relatively light touch with the subject matter. He’s not interested in scoring political points, just exploring the multi-layered relationship between Tato and Beto and the social, cultural, and economic context that underlies and drives their decisions, often subconsciously. Cuarón, of course, benefits greatly from having actors of Luna and Bernal’s caliber, not to mention their decades-long friendship, to fill out the roles of Beto and Tato, respectively. Then again, the audience benefits as well from Luna and Bernal’s first film together in eight years.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.