Will Ferrell has a movie coming out this Friday, and there's a chance you aren't even aware of it. That's probably fine with him—although that doesn't mean he's not really proud of this film.
Only being released on approximately 350 screens, Casa de Mi Padre is a tongue-in-cheek homage to telenovelas that finds the 44-year-old star playing a Mexican rancher, speaking Spanish, and acting as if it's completely natural for there to be one dopey white guy amidst all these Hispanic actors. It's not unusual for comic A-listers to switch gears by doing a small, serious movie—Ferrell did the same thing years ago with Stranger Than Fiction—but Casa de Mi Padre is different: It's a willfully odd comedy that's happy to be obscure rather than commercially viable. For Ferrell, Casa de Mi Padre is just the most visible example of his long-running love for WTF weirdness.
Before he transitioned to full-time film actor, Ferrell was already exhibiting an Andy Kaufman-like interest in a kind of anti-humor that was more stunt than bit. While on Saturday Night Live, he would do established characters—like all cast members do—but the guy also loved the bizarre non sequitur, which unlike a lot of his cohorts he could turn into something really funny. Like, for instance, his great "Space: The Infinite Frontier," a talk show about the planets hosted by, of all people, Cubs announcer Harry Caray. Ferrell's impression was dead-on, but what was actually hilarious about the sketch was unspoken: Why the hell is Caray hosting a science show? That sort of never-discussed absurdity carried through to his Robert Goulet, which was enjoyable on the show but really fantastic when he went on Late Night with Conan O'Brien and showed up in character. The whole bit was built around the fact that "Goulet" thought he was in Burbank on The Tonight Show hanging out with Johnny Carson. It wasn't exactly funny ha-ha, but it was sorta amazing to watch Ferrell's commitment to the performance, even dropping a random I-don't-care-if-you-don't-get-it reference to Freddie de Cordova, Carson's old Tonight Show producer:
In the last decade or so, Ferrell's been busy establishing a film career, but while his hit movies tend to be "conventional" enough for mainstream audiences to embrace, the guy does enjoy peppering them with this streak of impish weirdness. For example, in The Other Guys, the wife he's always badmouthing as a nagging, unattractive battle axe turns out to be the sweet, gorgeous Eva Mendes. In Anchorman, he and his team bust out a spontaneous a cappella version of "Afternoon Delight" just 'cuz. Ferrell creates these universes that seem pretty normal except for that one thing that's out of place—and that one thing is never explained or rationalized, which consequently makes everything around it suddenly seem really surreal.
Lately, though, that weirdness has gained a more prominent position in his work. You can see signs of it everywhere: hosting SNL in 2009 and leading the cast in a completely serious rendition of Billy Joel's veterans anthem "Goodnight Saigon"; showing up in Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! (which is the epitome of this type of non-humor humor); introducing the starters at a recent Bulls-Hornets game; or hawking Old Milwaukee in a Super Bowl ad that only aired in the second-smallest market in the country:
The point of all these bits is that you're not supposed to know about them ahead of time. Ideally, they happen out there in the world without warning, and then you find out about them after the fact, which will prompt you to say, "Why the hell did he do that?" or "That's really awesome that he did that." Either way, I suspect, Ferrell will feel like he accomplished his mission. (No wonder that when the satirical Fake Paramount Twitter account started up, some people wondered if Ferrell had something to do with it.)
That brings us back to Casa de Mi Padre, which is that same WTF principle expanded to a feature-length production. In the film's press notes, Ferrell explained the concept behind the movie:
"I don't remember when I got the idea and there was really no good reason, but I always had the notion of doing a Spanish language comedy. I do not speak Spanish but I thought the concept of having someone who is - depending on who you talk to - either fairly well known or kind of well-known in American language film - placed in a foreign language film would be something you don't see every day."
That's basically how the movie plays. To like Casa de Mi Padre, you'd better be cool with the idea that the joke is, "Will Ferrell is in a telenovela." If you just stumbled across this on TV, you might think it's a real telenovela: It looks like one, sounds like one and feels like one, too. Except it's not. And that's what makes Casa de Mi Padre funny. Well, kinda funny: Ferrell seems a little too pleased with his central concept to really develop it. (No matter what you think of his old Goulet appearance on Late Night, imagine that at 90 minutes and that's essentially Casa de Mi Padre.)
It's fun to see someone of Ferrell's stature willing to embrace oddness on this sort of scale, although he does run the risk of making a movie that only he and his buddies will enjoy. But that probably won't bother Ferrell too much: Like Jack White working on a side project or Steve Martin deciding to do a bluegrass album, Casa de Mi Padre is an excursion that's not meant to be taken that seriously. If you don't dig WTF it's about, Ferrell will just move on to the next thing. Maybe you'll like that one better.