Rudo y Cursi
Beto (Diego Luna) and Tato (Gael Garcia Bernal) are brothers, and so, of course, they are rivals. They are also both soccer prodigies, and when high-rolling talent scout Batuta (scene stealer Guillermo Francella) has a flat tire in their provincial Mexican banana burg, as will happen in movies, he sees peso signs and offers a ticket to the big leagues. But he has room for only one passenger, and who gets the ride to this dream come true all comes down to one penalty kick. And that's just in the first 15 minutes or so.
Rudo y Cursi continues like that, not skipping a single sports-movie trope as Beto eventually joins his brother to tackle the big city, struggle to prove themselves to urban skeptics, go from rags to riches, and descend into the requisite indulgence and foibles until it all comes down to one big game, complete with dramatic slo-mo during the climactic play. Yet it all still feels remarkably fresh. Part of that is due, no doubt, to its setting in the exotic-to-gringos worlds of Mexico and soccer. The rest of the credit goes to the team of Luna, Garcia Bernal, and writer/director Carlos Cuarón.
Cuarón makes his feature directing debut with Rudo y Cursi, but he co-wrote Y tu mamá también with its director, his brother Alfonso Cuarón; Y tu mamá, of course, is also the movie that made Garcia Bernal and Luna international stars. Just as Y tu mamá recast the teen coming-of-age comedy as a vision of a coming-of-age modern Mexico, so Rudo y Cursi refracts the materialistic dreams of contemporary Mexican society through Beto and Tato's adventures in the beautiful game. Tato has a genuine talent, yet he's distracted by hopes for a musical career and a flash lifestyle (complete with a trophy girlfriend played by Jessica Mas). Hotheaded Beto literally squanders his good fortune on his secret vice, gambling. Batuta's schemes to advance the brothers telegraph that the sport is corrupt to the core, and when it comes time to build a big house for their long-suffering mother (Dolores Heredia), the local narco-trafficker beats them to it.
But Rudo y Cursi is no more a strict parable than it is a straight-up sports flick. Garcia Bernal's boyish gleam inspires affection for Tato, even at his most foolish, and a moustachioed Luna convinces as a ramrod so inflexible that he's in danger of breaking. Together with Cuarón they bring vivid, charismatic life to a story that, in other hands, would feel thunderingly rote, and the result is an artful movie that a stadium-sized crowd can get behind.