Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna, the dynamic Mexican duo of Alfonso Cuarón's groundbreaking Y Tu Mama También, reteam in Rudo y Cursi, a screwball drama ably directed by Cuarón's cowriter and younger brother, Carlos.
This jaunty yet melancholy film's title roughly translates as Tough and Corny - the nicknames given to Luna's Beto and Bernal's Tato, respectively. The two are bumpkin brothers, the Verduscos, working for a banana plantation in the middle of nowhere. Beto is married with kids. Tato keeps an accordion strapped to his chest and harbors dreams of pop stardom. Both are broke. And both are passionate soccer players - obsessed with the game and exceptionally good at it, too.
When a sports manager (Guillermo Francella) happens on the Verduscos in mid-match on a dusty soccer field, it almost seems too good to be true. Tato, a skilled striker with an old-fashioned playing style, is the first to find a place on a pro team - moving from a cramped Mexico City apartment shared with fellow novices to his own deluxe manse as his scores, and celebrity, ascend. Enter the calendar pinup and spokesmodel Maya (Jessica Mas), a dreamboat who appears as dazzled by Tato's talents as he is by her.
Before long, brother Beto is recruited, too. He's a seemingly invincible goalie, and likewise becomes a star in the crazy world of soccer. Praised and pursued by fans, Beto's trajectory seems skyward bound - but his old gambling habits are hard to kick, and so is a new one introduced by a slick casino operator: cocaine.
Unlike Sugar, Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden's quietly powerful portrait of a Dominican baseball player's pursuit of a place in the big leagues, Rudo y Cursi has a giddy, breakneck nuttiness about it. Bernal and Luna don't exactly play it for laughs - their characters face a series of daunting opportunities and dilemmas, and the two brothers don't always make the right choices.
But Cuarón is having fun, too. Without getting heavy-handed, the first-time (feature) director manages to mock and skewer 1) Mexico's soccer hooliganism, 2) its thriving and violent drug rings, 3) its tabloid journalism, 4) its pop music, and 5) the sorry exploitation of its workforce. That's a mess of cultural issues to reckon with, and Rudo y Cursi deals with them while offering an engaging rags-to-riches sports fantasy.
That the fantasy comes crashing back to earth seems all but inevitable. That Rudo y Cursi doesn't crash in the process - that's muy bien.