I’d love you to love me.
I’m beggin’ you to beg me.
— Cheap Trick, “I Want You to Want Me”
Tato (Gael García Bernal) and Beto (Diego Luna) aren’t exactly fulfilling their dreams picking bananas. They spend long hours in the fields of Jalisco, Mexico, carrying heavy loads and telling stories, trying their best not to know how disappointed they are. After work, they head over to an expanse that passes for an athletic field, where they play fútbol with other boys. Here their smiles are wide and their bodies in thrilling motion. This is the place they most want to be.
It is by no small miracle that they get their chance. Only a few minutes into Rudo y Cursi, the brothers are discovered playing grand and gloriously boyish fútbol. That is, a scout happens to see them huffing and kicking and decides that they are indeed the athletes with “enormous potential” they imagine themselves to be. But Batuta (Guillermo Francella) — who has only briefly descended on the village in his red sports car with a busty beauty — declares he can only take one back to Mexico City for a tryout. “You’re not getting any younger,” he warns, and so they agree to a one-shot showdown, where primo scorer Tato faces off against most-excellent goalie Beto, a whispered promise to “kick to the right” bungled (as it’s unclear just whose right is intended by either).
And so their lives are changed. The single Tato — who really wants to be a singer, complete with cowboy outfit and an egregiously fey rendition of “I Want You to Want Me” — heads off to the big time, believing Batuta’s promises of glitz and brilliance. Married Beto stays home, unable to appease his wife Toña (Adriana Paz), increasingly impatient with his gambling, a bad habit he supports by selling her household appliances: “I want my blender,” she tells him, while Beto feels jealous of what believes to be his brother’s great good fortune. He can’t know that Beto — rechristened “Cursi” for his prissy self-performance off the field — is subjected to some rather nasty hazing by his new team (involving soap and penetration in the shower), or that being a rookie also means you don’t get much playing time.
It’s not long before Tato’s general good humor and flamboyant energy pay off. He’s not only a telegenic soccer star (“The lad is a goal-making machine! The lad’s got style!”), but also rewarded with the recording contract he so coveted. Not to mention his new girlfriend, the TV product model Maya Vega (Jessica Mas), who is as shallow as she appears.
Thrilled with the success he has with Tato, Batuta heads back to the village to sign Beto as well. Though Toña has said no, Beto sneaks off anyway. Once ensconced with the team (and subjected to the same locker room initiation), he has a nickname — Rudo (because he’s “tough”) — as well as new money, new girlfriends, and a more or less new self-image.
Beto is also increasingly competitive with Tato, who appears — at first — to be more sanguine about his changed lifestyle. Living together in the same over-the-top mansion, they vie each week over who gets the most time on TV and on the field, their celebrity at once a mutual thrill and divisive trauma. They are most certainly boys, in the most self-regarding and least interesting sense: they love their sudden wealth, fame, and exciting options. They are singularly unprepared, however, to handle any of it. And they see the rest of the world within a rudimentary, not to say adolescent framework (their instruction as to romance includes the following: “Loving a woman is like loving a ball. She requires guidance and control”).
As Tato and Beto negotiate the excesses and anxieties that come with celebrity, Rudo y Cursi appears initially to be a standard rise-and-fall saga, a cautionary tale concerning ambition and ignorance. It is also a meta version of that story, made by the Cuarón brothers (Carlos directing and writing, Alfonso producing) and starring the childhood-friends-like-brothers, Bernal and Luna (whose first international stardom came with Y tu mamá también, directed by Alfonso and written by Carlos).
But the movie is also more antic, more broadly accusatory than such a life story might entail. If stories of sports and movies stardom are grindingly similar, so too are family neuroses and rivalries, however small or large the scale. Desperate to be loved and to be icons of masculine achievement — to be breadwinners, lovers, winners, and artists — the boys never quite find themselves outside the fútbol pitch. Their film rambles a bit, accommodating and also undercutting any number of clichés, sometimes funny, sometimes just goofy, and sometimes outrageously melodramatic. As the brothers discover themselves, they are at once ordinary and resonant.