Rudo y Cursi (2009)
Rudo y Cursi is a kicky movie about the giddy heights and crushing lows of the sporting life.
It's the tale of two half-brothers -- Tato (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Beto (Diego Luna) -- from a village in Mexico, who work on a banana plantation, and who become professional futbol players in Mexico City.
Their sibling conflict evolves into a face-to-face moment of crucial competition. They reach that moment in similar and yet contrasting ways.
The best thing about Rudo y Cursi is that despite its relying on many of the conventions of sports movies, it still keeps us unsure about what will happen at the end.
Will it end in fairy-tale glory like Rocky (1976), or fateful futility like Raging Bull (1980), or dramatic ennui like Fat City (1972)?
One isn't sure.
The ending, though qualified, seems realistic, and of course a bit ironic.
Rudo y Cursi could be called Million Peso Babies The two brothers take different paths to success. They are discovered, by hustler/talent scout Batuta (Guillermo Francello), playing futbol (soccer) on a dusty field. But "Baton" can take only one of them for a tryout in Mexico City -- a city to which neither of them has gone before. They are "hicks."
Tato is a scorer, and Beto is a goalie, so they have a shootout to decide who will go.
Eventually both make it to the big city, where they are inexperienced and vulnerable They meet in an ultimate clash.
The brothers may be alter egos -- the director Carlos Cuaron says they originally were one character.
Beto, nicknamed "Rudo" (tough), because of his playing style, is married to Tona (Adriana Paz), and they have two children. He loves to gamble, which of course is an omen of things to come. He has dreams of gamesmanship. He is stronger and shrewder than his younger brother.
Tona too has dreams -- of winning a trip on a cruise ship by selling WonderLife, a health product.
Tato, nicknamed "Cursi" (corny/prissy), hates his nickname. He is a flamboyant goal scorer, but because of his naivete, he is an easy mark for a fickle gold digger, tv celebrity Maya Vega (Jessica Mas).
Cursi likes futbol, but his real dream is to become a singer His signature song is a shaky, mediocre cover of Cheap Trick's "I Want You to Want Me."
Cursi is not musically talented, but in the contemporary world, inchoate dreamers may prosper. At least for a little while.
Rudo y Cursi has been called a comedy. It's not. But it does recognize the amusing absurdities and antic foibles in life and the human condition.
Rudo y Cursi is a personal film. Writer/director Carlos Cuaron is the younger brother of successful director Alfonso Cuaron (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, 2004).
Carlos coscripted with Alfonso the hit Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001). That was a film that also starred Luna and Bernal, the leads of the present movie.
Diego Luna is multi-talented. He's appeared in The Terminal (2004), Criminal (2004), and Milk (2008). Luna also effectively directed a Mexican-documentary about boxer Julio Cesar Chavez (2007). He captures the edgy drive and brash ambition of Rudo.
Bernal, who portrayed Che in Motorcycle Diaries (2004), appeared in Babel (2006).
In Rudo y Cursi, united again Luna and Bernal work well together as the vulnerable brothers. Both their characters chase tantalizing pipe dreams.
One memorable scene is when the two try to out promise one another as they tell their mother (Dolores Heredia) the monumental house each plans to build for her.
One wonders how much the characters Rudo and Cursi mirror the Cuaron brothers. This obviously is an especially meaningful film for them.
Rudo y Cursi may tread some familiar ground, but I challenge you to guess the ending. Like sports, the movie has its surprises.
Rudo y Cursi is like an important corner kick -- familiar but unpredictable.
Like life itself.