You know a film isn’t going to be high art when the guy to your left at the press screening is a reporter from Extra and the guy to your right lets out a loud “That’s awesome, man” after each scene. Casa de Mi Padre is one of those nasty little films that tries very hard to obscure its misogynist and racist premise through satiric social commentary (here, the Mexican drug trade) when the pseudo political critique serves as mere excuse for it to glorify the stupidity of white men (who are superior even when they are stupid) and the unquestionable availability of delectable Latina bodies.
Never mind that Will Ferrell plays a Mexican member of the Alvarez family, the only one who speaks fluent Spanish with an inexplicably gringo accent (it’s surprising they didn’t put him in full-on brownface), trying to save his father’s ranch from the hands of trigger-happy Mexican drug lords. What this is really about is the way in which the Alvarez ranch is disturbingly similar to the harem-like estate in Salò, or 120 Days of Sodom. If in the Sadean fantasy the predators had to kidnap their victims into sexual captivity, here their very status as Latin women seems to inherently doom them into lingerie-wearing domestic labor. The women in this film are all twentysomething versions of Sofía Vergara parading around the patriarch’s mansion like property, circulating between brothers (you know those Mexicans and their obsession with family), readily serving men cartoonishly large margaritas (hilarious!), or turning up dead (if they dare to have sex for pleasure).
Although the film’s main elements are its purposeful spoofing of Mexican melodrama clichés and the grotesquely amateurish execution of special effects (tigers in the wild are played by stuffed animals), it seems to completely ignore, or not care, that all of its humor is built on the reiteration of the notion that Mexicans are helplessly uncivilized (the women are hot bimbos, the men are ignorant beasts) in dire need for a blue-eyed American to come save them from themselves. This becomes all the more evident when the drug dealers Raul (Diego Luna) and Onza (Gael García Bernal) make fun of Americans, describing them as babies who buy homes, cars, and TVs when they have no money and eat “shit burgers full of grease.” It’s a jarring scene that tries to make you believe this is about mocking the oppressor, not the oppressed.
For one single scene we could see the remnants of a less bankrupt idea (utilizing Mexican stereotypes, as authored by Americans, to speak back at them) take shape and die quickly. But the film, which is full of dreadful musical numbers (at one point, Ferrell croons, “I am a rancher and I know nothing”) and occasional cameos by the camera crew, lives off of its very superficial visual gags, albeit reinforcing all the offensive rhetoric that it would like to think it was actually queering. Its denouement seems to also say, and we needed this film to tell us, that not all Americans are bad and not all Mexicans are dealers. On the status of women, however, they are claiming the fifth.