The new Spanish-language movie "Casa de mi Padre" ("My Father's House") starring Will Ferrell opened Friday in approximately 400 locations across the country, including Las Vegas.
The movie is a spoof of old, overly dramatic Mexican movies and, besides Ferrell, has a mostly Latino cast and English subtitles.
The question is: Who is the target audience?
Films with subtitles don't have a strong history in the United States, and production companies often remake popular foreign movies into English-language versions, for example "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo."
The L.A. Times addressed the issue in a March 2010 article:
"Of the nearly 1,000 foreign-language films released in the U.S. since 1980, only 22 have grossed more than $10 million, with more than 70% of them taking in less than $1 million, according to boxofficemojo.com. Attendance for overseas product has fallen by as much as 40% over the last five years, according to one estimate."
Yet the film is written by Andrew Steele and directed by Matt Piedmont, who, like Ferrell, are veterans of "Saturday Night Live."
Ferrell stars as Armando Alvarez, a slow-witted Mexican ranch hand. The family ranch is struggling financially and when Armando's brother shows up offering to settle the family's debts, the problems are just getting started.
Ferrell is presumably a draw for U.S. audiences while the rest of the cast, including Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, are better known for their starring roles in popular Mexican films.
Critics have picked up on mixed signals about the target audience.
"I regard 'Casa de mi Padre' as an interesting but failed experiment, and many viewers may regard it with open irritation and bafflement (though I have a feeling Latino audiences will warm to the movie's evident love of vintage Mexican pop culture)," Slate's Dana Stevens said in a review.
Vique Rosas of Phoenix's KTVK had a similar reaction in her review on azfamily.com, but she thought the movie was funnier than Stevens did.
"'Casa de mi Padre' is hysterical," Rosas wrote. "The real trick will be for the flick to find the right audience. Sure, it has Will Ferrell at a kicked-up-a-notch best, but I worry that his audiences: a) won't appreciate the send up of Mexican exploitation movies and b) will be too lazy to read subtitles. Yep. Subtitles. Because, surprise, this movie really is a perfect send up of old Mexican movies down to an all Latino cast, and it's all in Spanish!"
The movie was funded by Santa Monica, Calif.-based Nala Films, and in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, executives said their original business plan was to make films in English with Latino stars. "Casa de mi Padre" turned that model on its head.
Emilio Diez Barroso, chairman of parent company Nala Investments, told the Wall Street Journal they saw Ferrell as a draw for both Spanish- and English-speaking audiences. The trailer is the same for both markets because, according to Barroso, Hispanics do not like to feel they are being marketed to differently.
Much of the film's $8 million marketing budget is going to advertisements on Spanish-language television.
In 2010, Hispanics made up nearly 30 percent of frequent moviegoers, yet they comprise about 16 percent of the overall population, according to the Motion Picture Association of America.
Judging from Rotten Tomatoes, though, the critics may be more confused than the general audience. Out of 63 critics' reviews, 34 were labeled "rotten" and 29 as "fresh," while 82 percent of more than 4,000 audience reviews gave the movie a passing grade. In the end, the audience members who will get the most out of the film may be the bilingual ones, as the filmmakers purposely mistranslated the Spanish vulgarities to add to the hilarity.
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