There is a psychedelic-vision quest scene featuring a creaky animatronic mountain lion as Ferrell's spirit animal.
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"I know that when Will came and pitched us the story, he was a bit worried about offending people," says Darlene Caamaño Loquet, a Cuban American whose company, Nala Films, provided Casa's budget (which she'll only say was "less than $10 [million]"). "And it was a smart move on his part to partner with a company such as ours because we are Hispanic."
In fact, this Spanish-language film made by non-Spanish speakers is being pitched specifically to the Hispanic audience. "The Latino market in the U.S. doesn't want to see films made just for Latinos," says Paul Presburger of Pantelion, a joint venture between Univision parent company Televisa and Lionsgate that is opening Casa on 350 screens. "They want to see movies that are general Hollywood movies, but that have something special about them that resonates with Latinos."
Pressburger says the film's appeal to the Latino demographic was apparent through internal screenings. "The first thing that happened is that they screened it for the Lionsgate executives," he says. "So all of the Hollywood white executives go into the room, and they watch it, and they thought the movie was entertaining and funny. Then my team, which is a bunch of Mexican Americans and Latino Americans, go and see the movie, and they liked it even more. And then I had the executives from Mexico up [for a screening], and they were on the floor, rolling with laughter. So, the more Latino you were, the more Mexican you were, the more you appreciated how funny it was."
Nala and Pantelion are blatantly hoping to exploit Ferrell's star power to reach a larger audience than the average Spanish-language movie. But though Ferrell is surely a big star, his attempts to step outside of his expected niche have not exactly caught fire with audiences. (Think of last year's indie Everything Must Go or his turn as Woody Allen's surrogate in Melinda and Melinda.) And even if Ferrell's ability to propel an indie to breakout status on his star power alone wasn't in doubt, Casa is for all intents and purposes a foreign-language art film. Not only is it subtitled, but in its multitiered homage and intentional sloppiness, it requires a certain level of media literacy in addition to just plain literacy.
"Listen, it's a tough one," Loquet admits. "Because it is in a different language, and you're asking people to read subtitles. [But] if you look at the numbers of who's really spending money at the theaters, Hispanics are the No. 1 indexing group. For us, as long as it makes the U.S. and the film business realize that Hispanics are the mainstream, that's success enough."
This article appeared in print as "Man-Child en Español: How did the Will Ferrell-in-Spanish movie ever get made?"
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