Have we got a pair of slumdog millionaires for you! In Rudo y Cursi, Y Tu Mama Tambien stars Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal reunite as two hardscrabble soccer fans whisked from the drudgery of small-town banana picking for a shot at the big time. Directed by Alfonso Cuarón’s kid brother Carlos Cuarón, the movie shares many of the charms of that earlier collaboration (Carlos co-wrote Y Tu Mama), but suggests a very different dynamic.
This time, Luna and Bernal play half-brothers, named Beto and Tato, mutually loyal to their common mother and, to a lesser degree, one another. When they aren’t toiling away in the fields, they spend most of their time on the soccer field. Beto plays goalie, aggressive enough in his manner that his teammates call him “Rudo” (or “rough”), while Tato is such a show-offy forward, his fancy tricks earn him the nickname “Cursi” (“prissy”). They’re both dreamers, but unrealistic enough about how to pursue their dreams that they hardly know how to handle opportunity when they bump into a talent scout on their way to a match. Instead of talking soccer, Tato tries to impress the out-of-towner with his less-than-impressive singing skills. A compulsive gambler, Beto sees this as his big chance, overlooking the fact that his wife and kids don’t necessarily fit into his fantasy of fame. Fortunately for them, the scout admires both brothers’ skill, but there’s a catch: He can only take one to Mexico City to play – and so the rivalry begins.
Cuarón makes it clear that a form of healthy competition has always existed between the siblings, as suggested by the art form to which the pair have raised insults and squabbling. It helps that Luna and Bernal have a preexisting bond; it’s that same keen observation of human nature and keen attention to character that the writer brought to Y Tu Mama Tambien that makes their fraternal dynamic so convincing.
Cuarón has a gift for boiling a vivid, complex world down. Rudo y Cursi may not aspire to the existential heft of Y Tu Mama, but it offers a near-epic sense of Mexican culture and society. As soon as he signs with a pro team, the lucky brother is successful enough that the scout returns to recruit the other. Before long, they’re playing against one another while living together in the same mansion. Money comes easy (a dangerous temptation for Beto’s gambling habit), as do women (Tato falls head-first for a social-climbing television star).
At this point, an American movie would do one of two things: The momentum would build to a climactic game, in which these underdogs manage to overcome the odds once and for all, or the cautionary tale would kick in and the movie would remind us that nothing in life is that easy. But Rudo y Cursi adheres to a wildly manic below-the-border sensibility in which fate doesn’t follow Syd Field rules and chance is truly unpredictable.
As the debut release for Mexican super-threesome Alfonso Cuarón, Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillermo del Toro’s new Cha Cha Chá shingle, Rudo y Cursi marks a great first project: Its nationality is stamped in its very DNA, and yet the film’s appeal is truly universal.
RUDO Y CURSI (3½) Directed by Carlos Cuarón • Starring Diego Luna and Gabriel Garcia Bernal • Rated R • 103 mins • At the Osio Cinemas.