Rudo y Cursi

Only a few minutes into Rudo y Cursi, the brothers are discovered playing grand and gloriously boyish fútbol.

Rudo y Cursi

Director: #243;n
Cast: Gael García Bernal, Diego Luna, Jessica Mas, Guillermo Francella, Dolores Heredia
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Display Artist: Carlos Cuarón
First date: 2009
UK Release Date: 2009-06-26 (General release)
US Release Date: 2009-05-08 (Limited release)
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.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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