The aforementioned buzzwords and phrases describe just a few of the countless reasons to watch Casa De Mi Padre, Matt Piedmont’s directorial debut, which opens March 16. Made mostly in subtitled Spanish and in the over-the-top style of a telenovela, Casa stars the comedic behemoth Ferrell as Armando Alvarez, a Mexican ranchero who, with the help of his financially successful but ethically questionable brother (Diego Luna), is committed to saving the family ranch — even when threatened by drug lords, sexy señoritas and a mustachioed American federal agent (Nick Offerman).
Ferrell came up with the idea to make a Spanish-language, telenovela-style film several years ago. The telenovela is a genre of television programming in Latin American and Hispanic countries. Though akin in format and content to the dramatic soap operas that continue to fill up daytime television slots in the United States, telenovelas are far more culturally pervasive than Days of Our Lives has ever been, attracting a wider audience in terms of age, class and interests.
“I wouldn’t say I’m a huge fan [of telenovelas]," jokes Ferrell in a phone interview. "I only watch them on weekdays from 11 a.m. to 4 in the afternoon. I’m not a crazy person about it." Then he sheepishly admits, “I don’t know any [televnovelas].” In reality, apart from “flipping through channels,” he credits the birth of Casa De Mi Padre to his own awareness of an intriguing cultural hole.
“[I hadn’t] seen an American comedian fit himself into a Spanish-language film,” he says. “It was some random idea I had…that it could be interesting to put myself in [one].”
There was a reason for that gap, as Ferrell soon found out. Making a good movie for two different audiences required a little extra effort. Along with learning how to speak Spanish correctly — “I didn’t want the joke of this movie to be that I spoke Spanish poorly” — Ferrell employed many other methods and friends to ease the transition from American to Spanish film.
“[Director] Matt [Piedmont] came up with…the cinematic style,” says Ferrell. “He was watching Westerns from the '60s and early '70s…He was able to use these really old lenses. All of that was a really conscious choice to give it this really throwback feel.” The rest of the art and cultural direction, on the other hand, “was kind of a group effort. Picking out certain elements of wardrobe, looking at Mexican spaghetti westerns. And between speaking Spanish all of the time, and being with a cast that’s predominantly Latino and a lot of crew members, it was pretty easy to assimilate into that culture.”
When it came to crossing the border between foreign and indigenous comedy, however, Ferrell seemed a bit more uncertain as to his success. “It’s tough, because if you watch some of the 'Mexican comedy' I’ve seen, it’s really over the top…and yet from talking to [actor] Diego [Luna], they really appreciate subtle humor.” The balance is a subtle one.
However, in the unlikely event that Casa’s humor is somewhat lost in translation for Hispanic viewers, die-hard Ferrell fans still have no reason to fear.
“It has a similar feel to Anchorman in the way we throw all the rules out of the window,” says Ferrell. “You literally don’t know where the movie’s going at any given moment.” Due to the unpredictable, over-the-top nature of the movie’s comedy, a style for which Ferrell is widely adored, he seems secure in Casa’s imminent success. “I think fans will be fully satisfied,” he declares.
If all goes well, as Ferrell so confidently predicts, what is his vision for Casa?
“It would be hysterical to me if this movie became a little cult hit…If we did a little series of them,” muses Ferrell. Then he pauses, reflecting upon the various possible cultural paths his project could take.
“There are a billion Chinese,” he remarks. “So that’s the next market to conquer.”