"Like any good sports movie, the subtitled "Rudo y Cursi" is not at all about sports. The competition exists on a much more fundamental level: One brother is pitted against the other in a battle over who the better person is. Even more fundamental is the battle each brother wages with himself between his talent and his passion, neither of which seem to go hand in hand. The strength of this film is that it relies on these simple, understandable ideas to get its point across. It also relies on clearly defined characters that behave realistically. The brothers, for example, seem not like archetypal clones but rather like actual human beings, shifting back and forth between loving and hating each other. While none of this makes for groundbreaking cinema, it does allow for an enjoyable film that's sometimes fun, sometimes dramatic, and always charming.
The film, written and directed by Carlos Cuarón (Alfonso's brother), is about Tato (Gael García Bernal) and Beto (Diego Luna), brothers from a rural Mexican village where life revolves around a banana plantation. As they play soccer, they're spotted by a stranded talent scout named Batuta (Guillermo Francella), who doubles as the film's narrator. As smooth as can be, he offers them a chance to try out for a professional team. From this, we get a much better understanding of who the brothers are: Tato clearly has talent on the field, but his real dream is to be a famous singer; Beto's dream is to be a goalie, although he seems better suited for a career in gambling. Both seem determined to help their mother, who's married to a new husband neither one of them have any patience for.
It's the eager and ignorant Tato who Batuta chooses first, and within no time, he's taken to Mexico City and given the nickname "Cursi" (which translates as "vulgar"). The quick-tempered Beto eventually joins his brother, leaving behind a wife, a few children, and a steady job. He earns the nickname "Rudo" (which translates as "coarse").
As they both go through the ups and downs of playing on a professional soccer team--and this definitely includes the many hazing rituals in the locker room showers--they engage in other activities. Tato begins dating a beautiful TV personality and produces a music video for the Spanish version of "I Want You to Love Me." Beto gets sidetracked by fame and fortune, resulting in risky games of high stakes poker and a line or two of cocaine. It also results in a considerable amount of debt ... the kind that comes with death threats from shady people. This isn't good, especially since his wife has made the journey to Mexico City hoping to make it big pitching health supplements.
All this inevitably leads to a climactic soccer match, made more interesting by the fact that Tato and Beto find themselves on opposite teams. Were this all "Rudo y Cursi" were concerned with, it would be a very mundane film. As it is, it's an absorbing tale of two conflicting personalities, both so convincing that they effectively overshadow the conventional plot. One of my favorite scenes takes place on the beach, where the brothers are spending time with their visiting mother. As they sit in the sand, each son tries to one-up the other by promising to build a big house right along the shore. It's a perfect example of evoking a rivalry, and I say "evoking" because one gets the sense that it's been building within them ever since they were children.
This very intentionally functions as a counterpart to Batuta's narration, which seems made up almost entirely of proverbs and facts. He begins the film, for instance, by giving us a brief history of soccer: Long, long ago, the Ancient Aztecs invented a game in which they kicked around the severed head of their enemies. We know right then and there that "Rudo y Cursi" will be a story of competition and sacrifice with just a little bit of game-playing thrown in for good measure. To extend the metaphor, the story that we're about to see will be just like a soccer match, with opposing forces working towards their own set of goals.
By the end of the film, there's the implication that every gets exactly what they wanted out of life, albeit in unconventional ways. To elaborate would give too much away, but rest assured that the story resolves itself appropriately, if not unexpectedly. What "Rudo y Cursi" lacks in originality is more than made up for in depth of character and simplicity of theme; we watch this film aware yet forgiving of its conventions, and that's because we're being told a relatable story with protagonists who seem real. This would have been very difficult to achieve were it not for the natural onscreen chemistry between Bernal and Luna. They just seem like a natural fit together. More to the point, they seemed like actual brothers--perpetually caught in that gray zone between love and hate, driven by the need to upstage each other, united in their desire to please their mother. This, I feel, is so much more compelling than a simple game of soccer."
Not Your Standard Sports Movie
Indie Insomniac | Bradenton, FL USA | 08/12/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I saw "Rudo y Cursi" this year at the Sarasota Film Festival and was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the movie. The main reason I went to see "Rudo y Cursi" was because it starred Gael Garcia Bernal, whose films I generally enjoy. I felt a little unsure about the film going into it, because I didn't know much going into the film and felt this would be a typical sports movie, but I really enjoyed seeing this. The film is truly a story of two brothers more than anything, and, though it does revolve around their passion for sports, it didn't feel like your regular sports film. It does have some of your stereotypical sports film moments, but in the end it was a very unique movie experience. Anyone who enjoys Gael Garcia Bernal films, will definitely love this movie. He is equally serious and humorous in the film and serves as a great counterpart to Diego Luna who plays his brother. I feel that this film can be enjoyed by a wide array of viewers and would suggest this film to anyone, as it is an all around great movie."
A fun, rollicking movie and cautionary tale to boot
Andy Orrock | Dallas, TX | 11/13/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"'Rudo y Cursi' is a fun, rollicking movie and a cautionary tale to boot. I was lucky enough to see this film's debut at Dallas AFI in early 2009, where it was introduced by writer/director Carlos Cuarón. That night, Cuarón called 'Rudo y Cursi' "a tale of my Mexico and what it is today, good or bad." What we get is Cuarón's comedic/dramatic arc of the gravitational pull of Mexico D.F. on small-city dreamers, an obsession with El Fútbol Mexicano, shady sports promotion, a hyper-aggressive media looking to find and promote stars, here-today-gone-tomorrow success, and - lurking in the background - allusions to the ascendancy of powerful drug lords.
Our audience was split 50-50 between native Spanish and English speakers - the Spanish-speaking half laughed uproariously throughout; the English-speaking half found the proceedings interesting, funny...but maybe not quite that funny. The difference was between the spoken word and the subtitles - I had a friend confirm that half-brothers Tato (Gael García Bernal) and Beto (Diego Luna) are insulting each other throughout in inventive, bluer-than-blue, can-you-top-this street language. The subtitles reflect only a small slice of that linguistic flair.
Like many, I was delighted by the little Easter egg tucked away inside this film: García Bernal's hilariously campy ranchera rendition of Cheap Trick's "I Want You to Want Me" - recast here as "Quiero Que Me Quieras." As director, Carlos Cuarón may not have quite the emotional touch that older brother Alfonso laid down with perfection in Y Tu Mama Tambien, but Carlos definitely has the ear for comedy and cultural touchstones.
As much fun as it was to watch García Bernal and Luna pair up again, my favorite role in the film belonged to Argentine actor Guillermo Francella as sports agent and scout, 'Batuta.' His role in plucking Tato and Beto from obscurity and riding their wave of success - and what follows - rings true at every step. He inhabits that role perfectly."
Mexico City Can Be Too Enticing
John F. Rooney | 11/08/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
""Rudo y Cursi" (2009) features two banana-picking brothers playing football (soccer) in their small Mexican village where they are discovered by a scout/scam artist (Guillermo Francella), the film's sometime narrator. Rudo (Diego Luna) is a goalie, and Cursi (Gael Garcia Bernal) is an effective scorer. The scout can only take one of them to Mexico City, so they choose who is to go by a penalty kick. Cursi wins, gets established in pro soccer, and talks the scout into getting his brother onto another team. Both become successful. Cursi would just as soon be a pop music star and tries his hand at it. His flaw is falling for a beautiful faithless celebrity girl friend, and Rudo's failing is his addictive gambling habit. Both run into trouble and can't handle success. There are a lot of crooks around ready to fix games, and one brother gets entrapped in a fix which involves the other. The movie "Y Tu Mama Tambien" was co-written by Carlos Cuaron, but this time he wrote and directed using the same lead actors from "Mama." In Spanish with English sub-titles, the flick never really shows the two with any real soccer skills, and is short on detailed soccer sequences. The pictures of village life are well-handled, and the movie has many realistic elements. These two guys aren't the best actors you've ever seen, but they turn in credible enough jobs to keep the plot boiling and the lid ready to pop. Some of the plot features may seem familiar and overworked to you. It reminds me of what a very good "B" movie used to be like in the good old days. "
Footballers . . .
Ronald Scheer | Los Angeles | 09/04/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is a rough-and-tumble film that shows us the personalities of the young men who rise to social and media prominence in a national sport. It shows us the guys behind the flat, cliche-ridden delivery of on-the-field interviews for TV sports and the glamorizing of sports writers and commentators. The film's two central characters are country bumpkins, who happen to be so naturally gifted as athletes that they shoot straight to the top of the game and are soon rolling in dough and luxuries, unaware of the under-the-table wheeling and dealing of their manager and owners.
Brothers - one of them married, one not - compete as much with each other as any team they play against. Given opportunities to learn about the way of the world, they miss every one of them, fixated on what they are really interested in - a singing career for one and high-stakes gambling for the other. It's a recipe for an unhappy ending, but even when matters take a turn for the worse, there are no regrets. There's plenty of cleverness in this film that celebrates sport while satirizing the conventional sports movie. The spectacular plays on the field are off camera, and we get instead the amazed reaction shots of onlookers.
Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna are well matched as the film's two brothers, nicknamed Rudo and Cursi. Bernal has the wonderful ability to play farcical comedy as naturally as he does straight dramatic roles. This film is not the social commentary that we get in the excellent road movie "Y Tu Mama Tambien," which under its comic surface is dead serious. "Rudo y Cursi" is more of a lark and for all that probably less memorable."