Rudo y Cursi: Film Review

Directed by: Carlos Cuarón, Runtime: 103 minutes
Grade: C+

Here's a quick rundown on Rudo y Cursi: two siblings working day-to-day as farmhands -- the oldest a slightly-hardened pessimist, the younger a whiny dreamer -- are discovered by a talent scout in the middle of nowhere while playing sports in a backwater recreational league. They leave their homes via the whims of the agent and become big rags-to-riches success stories in a professional league, then clash together in a conflict-riddled final game that'll define their relationships for the rest of their lives.

Yes, that's a slightly vague synopsis on my part, but the framework still sounds deviously familiar to something else at face value. Though it imitates a film seventeen years its senior, the sappy yet sweetly satisfying A League of Their Own, it's handled in a fashion that pours over the charm from Alfonso Cuarón's intimate Mexican dramas, Y tu mamá también and Sólo con tu pareja -- both of whom have director Carlos Cuarón, Alfonso's brother, attached as writer. However, all that creates an uphill battle for the simpler-minded Rudo y Cursi, pitting familiarities against familiarities in a sports film that's amusing yet dryly unoriginal.

With the slightly snake-like agent narrating their story, we follow Beto, "Rudo" (Diego Luna), and his brother Tato "Cursi" (Gael García Bernal), as they skyrocket up the ranks in professional soccer. Rudo, a brash banana foreman with a taste for gambling, supports his family with little more in his imagination outside of becoming a soccer superstar. Cursi, however, wishes to be a singer, and only follows through with the agent's luring because of his persuasive comments about the concerts he'll eventually play as an athlete-turned-musician. Through the extraordinarily easy (and highly suspect) magic that the obnoxious agent conjures up, they both make it to the pros -- and, naturally, both of these agricultural-working, sheltered men get tossed around with the sharks in the professional league, both on and off the field.

Carlos Cuarón's direction takes this familiar narrative about sibling rivalry and gives it a nice comedic kick. He invigorates the dynamic with natural yet harpy-like bickering in spots between Rudo and Cursi, mostly during their adrenaline-fueled antics before they're brought up to the Mexico City soccer league. Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna build their pre-sports characters adequately, making both Rudo and Cursi endearing while preserving the interplay that made their chemistry in Y tu mamá también a delight. Even as the agent stumbles into their dusty town and "makes a decision" between the two in absolutely ridiculous fashion, their banter carries the film gracefully over the hurdle between bloated family-centered explosiveness and into the professional sports ring.

Once they've become big shot soccer pros, Rudo y Cursi begins a flamboyant roll downhill. Carlos Cuarón's ample direction gradually evaporates at around the halfway point, which exposes a secondhand, cliché story framework that loses the attractive promise that was built up in the first half. It begins to go in auto-pilot, to a degree; between the one-two punch of Tato's singing career and all-to-predictable marital issues, along with Rudo's own domestic bouts revolving around gambling and martial breakdown, it transforms into a slightly amusing yet extraordinarily predictable hodgepodge of sports antics and sibling rivalry. All the satirical potshots are amusing, sure -- like the ridiculous music video Cursi records and the threatening fans reminiscent of American high-school football crazies -- but the combination of musing-like narration and unconvincingly smooth sport framework take it down a few notches.

There's clearly talent swimming around in Carlos Cuarón, both as a writer and, potentially, as a director, but Rudo y Cursi might have been too undemanding and structured of a comedy for his premiere directorial effort. The vibrant tone he sets for the film feels like a jubilant stenciling of a past picture with an overly familiar force driving it across the finish line, even while he's deftly handling the tension of the soccer field and scattering humor about for good measure. It does make us laugh though, which seems like the primary aim behind this sports flick, and somehow it's impossible to ignore its flavor of comedic timing. Though too silly and far too familiar for its own good, you'll still likely find this Cuarón production appealing enough to satisfy the urging for a semi-artsy, screwball sports comedy.


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