Written and directed by Carlos Cuarón, Rudo y Cursi is a quirky satire with a dark twist. The story follows two brothers named Beto (Diego Luna) and Tato (Gael García Bernal) on a familiar journey that takes them from humble roots on a banana farm all the way to professional soccer super-stardom.
Nearly seven years after Luna and García Bernal went road-tripping together in Y Tu Mamá También (also written by Cuarón and directed by his brother Alfonso) the two stars hardly look like they've aged and it's clear they had a good time reuniting on the set. However, while both actors deliver exuberant and forceful performances, their energy can't quite keep Cuarón's narrative on track. The result is a movie that is a joy to take in, but muddled in tone. To see what I mean, read more.
The boys are discovered by a talent scout named Batuta, who also narrates the film via voiceover. At first he can only take one of the brothers with him to Mexico City and he chooses Tato. Beto begrudgingly stays behind, tending to his wife and family, while Tato endures the brutal hazing practices of the soccer team. Eventually Beto does join his brother in the city and both become famous soccer players known by their nicknames Rudo and Cursi (roughly translated as tough and corny).
The movie has many comedic moments that work well. For example, García Bernal's character is more interested in a singing career than soccer, and the video he shoots for his cover of "I Want You to Want Me" is completely awesome. But when Diego's character gets to the city and grapples with a gambling problem, the brothers' relationship is tested, and the movie starts to drag. This disturbing undertone to the film doesn't quite jibe with the tongue-in-cheek satirical tone of the first half of the movie.
It's clear Cuarón has something to say about fate and love and even consumer culture, but his movie isn't executed quite well enough to figure out what that is. Still, the writing is witty and the tale is told with such vigor that you can't help but get swept away in it all.
Photos courtesy of Sony Picture Classics