Rudo y Cursi, starring Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna, may not have the steamy threesome and sex featured in their earlier film Y tu mamá también, but the film that reunites Luna and Bernal after eight years does boast something equally remarkable: a countrified Mexican version of Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me.” If that doesn’t get attendees in theater seats, frankly, I don’t know what will.
The Mexican comedy from writer and director Carlos Cuarón follows half brothers and full rivals Tato (Bernal) and Beto (Luna) Verdusco as they ascend from the plantation to near-super soccer stardom. The film opens with a brief narrated history of the beautiful game, the opening minutes overflowing with images of soccer balls, soccer cleats, goals and nets, before moving on to Tato and Beto’s shared story. The two are instantly pitted against one another as a recruiter, Batuta (Guillermo Francella), forces the two to compete for one position on a Mexican soccer team.
After winning the chance to compete professionally, Tato enters the cutthroat world of Mexican soccer, armed with dreams of eventually making the transition (like so many stars today do) from soccer stardom to musical fame. When Beto leaves his wife and family at the plantation to join his brother and enters the profession soon after, the fixed tactics of playboy Batuta become apparent: the calculated lines, subpar initial living conditions, the constant negotiations of his cut. As with most rags to riches stories, Beto and Tato rise to prominence, happiness and money too quickly and find themselves succumbing to the vices: for Beto, gambling on anything from cock fighting to poker; for Tato, that damn music career.
The film boasts an all-star list of Mexican stars both in front of and behind the silver screen: in addition to Bernal, Luna and Cuarón, Y tu mamá también director Alfonso Cuarón, Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) and Alejandro González Iñárritu (Amores perros) also worked on the project. Bernal and Luna are clearly at home in their settings, not only in collaborating with Mexican filmmakers, but in their comfort and understanding of one another. Portraying brothers onscreen after years of friendship off-screen (in addition to Y tu mamá también, they also formed Canana Films together) is not a stretch by any means, making watching the two actors work together once again that much more enjoyable.
Cuarón utilizes a series of narration to move the film along, having Batuta impart gems of wisdom such as “Wars are taken for games, and games are taken for wars” to compliment the action and passage of time. The comments are tolerated for the first half of the film, but by the time Batuta’s manipulative charm has taken its toll on our leads, the narration becomes superfluous, almost annoying as it nears an end. That said, Batuta’s character is actually one of the most likable, the presentation and demeanor of his character makes his exploitation understandable, almost charming.
Rudo y Cursi is technically categorized as a comedy, but the word is used loosely. Though there are certainly several humorous moments throughout the film (referring to that Cheap Trick cover here), watching the brothers rise to and fall from fame is frustrating and disheartening. Watching Beto and Tato throw away their home, their women and their careers is necessary but painful, leaving you hoping for at least a silver lining by the end of the film.
Bernal and Luna’s ability to transition to new roles so seamlessly after eight years and with a powerhouse of Mexican talent behind them makes Rudo y Cursi a film worth seeing. Just don’t expect more sex than soccer.