Napoleon Dynamite‘s racism was unmistakable, Nacho Libre‘s less so, subverted as it is by Jack Black’s comic humanism. Like a fly drawn to raw meat, director Jared Hess frames the Mexican face without heart, his eyesight shit-stained where Wes Anderson’s is clear-sighted. There is little point to his fixation with the unattractive human face, but Black—as a half-Mexican orphan who grows up to be a monk with aspirations of being a Lucha Libre wrestler—sees beauty in the grotesque, looking beneath the surface of what is fat and ugly. This is a definite upgrade for Hess, whose comic-book framing techniques are fantastically colorful in ways that almost excuse his lapses in judgment, just as the Nacho character’s racial in-betweenness is meant to validate Black’s casting. The script, by Hess, his wife Jerusha, and Mike White, is a one-joke premise stretched as thin as a tortilla, but there’s a genuine sense of worship implicit in the repetition of gags centered around the food and traditions of the story’s regional people (during one wrestling match, Nacho uses a woman’s churro to beat one of his competitors). For easy laughs, the film’s trio of writers cheat the way a legitimate English-speaking person of Mexican descent might enunciate their words (as in poopies, not poppies, instead of puppies), but Black’s accented delivery is consistently and hilariously passionate, almost sublime, and there’s real grace in the way cause and effect are not-so-neatly connected: I’m not sure why salad gets the thumbs up over what appears to be bowls of refried beans and nachos, but both diet plans at least explain everyone’s flatulence problem. “Do you realize I’ve had diarrhea since Easters?” says Nacho’s tag-team partner, Esqueleto (Héctor Jiménez), about his friend’s cooking. So have I since Napoleon Dynamite, but Nacho Libre, via Nacho’s connection to history (through his affection for a portly young orphan) and genuine need to reconcile his religious faith with his desire to wrestle, is something of a reprieve. For Hess, the ray of light of the final shot—at once an act of historical reverence and a look toward the future—is possibly even a sign of penance.
- Jared Hess
- Jared Hess, Jerusha Hess, Mike White
- Jack Black, Héctor Jiménez, Ana De La Reguera, Richard Montoya, Cesar Gonzalez, Darius Rose
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