By Connie Ogle, The Miami Herald
Carlos Cuarón’s fierce, profane and hilarious comedy about two brothers is not so much about sports as about how we play the game of life, celebrate when we score and react when the ball bounces the wrong way (as it inevitably does). It’s also about following your dreams, family ties, passion, destiny, how important it is to pay your debts and why singing in public is not always the best idea. And, finally, yes: it’s also about Mexico’s ardent love affair with soccer.
Cuarón is the brother of Alfonso (Children of Men, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) and co-screenwriter of Alfonso’s breakthrough hit Y tu mama tambien. A quick glance at a list of the film’s producers reveals not only Alfonso’s name but also a couple of other heavy hitters: Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) and Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel). If its pedigree isn’t already sufficiently intriguing, the film also reunites Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna, who co-starred as best friends in Y tu mama tambien, and their reunion is sweet indeed. As bickering half-brothers Tato and Beto, Bernal and Luna are so natural and funny you’d swear they were related in real life, and their instant chemistry more than makes up for the film’s foreseeable developments.
Hot-headed Beto (Luna) is married with two kids. He’d be the slightly more responsible brother if only he didn’t keep gambling away his possessions. He manages a plantation where Tato (Bernal) runs around lugging bushels of bananas. The brothers live in a village in semi-squalor, surrounded by a large, squabbling extended family. Beto dreams of winning big and buying his wife a blender to replace the one he lost in a card game. Tato, accordion in his lap, dreams of launching a singing career in the United States. But where they really come to life is on the local soccer field.
A traveling talent scout (the wry Guillermo Francella, whose wise but rueful narration provides a necessary accompaniment to the story) discovers the brothers during a game on the dusty field. He can take one player with him to Mexico City; a shootout determines Tato will go. Later goalie Beto follows, and both endure hazing, painful stretches on the bench — though Cuarón breezily points out how effectively a bribe can end to that indignity — and are amazed by such modern wonders as freeze-dried shrimp. Eventually, they become stars — with nicknames! — but discover there is a price for everything.
Cuarón doesn’t hesitate to mock his yokels, but he’s also affectionate with them, and so are we. Life is a gamble, Rudo y Cursi tells us. Happily, seeing this rude, rough, charming movie is not.
Cast: Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna, Guillermo Francella.
Director/screenwriter: Carlos Cuarón.
Producers: Alfonso Cuarón, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Guillermo del Toro, Frida Torresblanco.
A Sony Pictures Classics release. Running time: 103 minutes. Pervasive language, sexual content, some drug use. In Spanish with English subtitles. Playing at area theaters.