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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Nacho Libre (review)

The Farce Is With Us

I should have had more faith. I was expecting Nacho Libre, Jared Hess’s follow-up flick to his sweet Napoleon Dynamite, to be, well, dumb. Mostly because I mostly can’t stand Jack Black — his intriguingly weaselly performance in King Kong aside — who has made an unfortunate career in the humiliation-and-embarrassment genre (Shallow Hal, Envy). But also because the art of the cinematic farce is all but lost these days in Hollywood: what was once farce has turned into an orgy of, well, humiliation and embarrassment with a goopy, creamy filling of sappy sentiment in just about every movie the studios attempt to pass off as absurd comedy. And Hollywood has an excellent track record of late of plucking indie directors from the triumph of festival success and forcing them into the same narrow, confining pseudoartistic boxes their indie films were reactions against.

But, wonder of wonders and sing hallelujah! Nacho Libre — while no Napoleon Dynamite — manages to maintain a steady and fully absurd level of absurdity, with nary an ounce of sappy sentiment to be found, for all that the story is, ultimately, about feeding poor orphans. And that’s what makes it, ultimately, more successful than not. Oh, sure, its tale of feeding poor orphans out of the takings from a monk’s (Black) secret Mexican wrestling sideline falls flat in plenty of places, but I laughed — out loud! — more than once, which is a rare thing for a movie to make me do. And more than that, the strange and silly ridiculousness is of such an original and imaginative quality that that alone is enough to recommend it. Nacho Libre doesn’t always come up to the high bar it has set for itself, but that it sets such a high bar is itself a kind of triumph.
Perhaps, though, the most telling commentary on Nacho Libre comes from the subject of Hess’s first film, the documentary Napoleon Dynamite. I came across this review by Napoleon online, and he said it was okay for me to repost his review and some of his images. But he asked me not to link to his blog because of all the “totally unrighteous jerks” who “hassle” him all the time because of Hess’s movie about him. So here it is:

So NACHO LIBRE is not about free Doritos but any way it is from that Jared guy that made that totally bogus movie about me and its pretty SA-WEET any way! Its almost as good as the comix I drew that was like my best drawing ever about the summer I spent in Alaska hunting wolferines and had all sorts of fighting and stuff. Its about this guy named Nacho Libre who is totally hassled all the time because he is a like a monk or soemthing but he just wants to be Mexican wrestler all right? Gosh! I mean NACHO LIBRE is about the guy named Nacho Libre not my comix.

Cool thinsg about NACHO LIBRE:

1) Nacho has a SA-WEET ride that is like a bike with a motor and he totally gets like at least four feet in teh air on one awesome jump

2) Nacho is kind of fat and theres a scene when hes running arond and hes jiggling a lot and that is flippin awesome

3) Nacho hooks up with a SA-WEET Mexican chick who dresses all in black like shes from some where freakin awesome like New York and they have toast in his room. Nachos room that is

4) Nacho has a buddy whos like incredible like my friend Pedro and totally has Nachos back and everything

5) Nacho has a flippin killer mustache that’s even better than my buddy Pedro who has the best muostache in school

Anyway I was tellin my totally LAMEO brother Kip

about the move and he was all Its called a SATIRE Napoleon and its not a very good one and I was like What EVER! Gosh! And hes just doing it to help the orphans, okay? I mean Nacho. And its like ROCKY at the end WOW its the greatest ending for a movie EVER! And Kip was like God your always egsagarating, Napoleon. Gosh! I AM NOT!

Also this movie has screaming dwarfs Mexican wrestlers and eagle eggs that give super eagle powers which is totally awesome in any movie even one by that Jared guy who I HATE forever! Gosh!

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MPAA: rated PG for rough action, and crude humor including dialogue

viewed at a public multiplex screening

official site | IMDb
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  • Senor Malo Ideo

    I am amazed that you can call Napoleon Dynamite, one of the most mean-spirited, hateful movies of recent memory “sweet.” Or that you can deride Jack Black for being in the embarrassment and gross-out genre, when Napoleon Dynamite was one of the most humiliating and disgusting movies I’ve ever seen. As was Nacho Libre, for the record.

    Seriously, this is supposed to absurd and crazy? It’s sloppy and pointless. And to think, you gave a legitimately bizarre movie like Anchorman a thumbs down. Sometimes I don’t get you, lady.

  • Uh, Napoleon Dynamite was mean-spirited and hateful? You must be joking…

  • Christ, Napoleon! Use a spellchecker, gosh!

  • MaryAnn Johanson

    *Napoleon Dynamite* is sweet in the sense that Napoleon uses the word: as in like flippin’ awesome.

    I think you missed my point, Senor Malo Ideo, about maintaining a tone. Meanspiritedness isn’t a problem in itself — the problem is when a movie spends 90 minutes dumping literal and figurative shit on a character and asking us to laugh at that character’s predicament, and then, in the last 10 minutes of the film, expects us to go all mushy and sentimental about that same character. That doesn’t work. But movies like *Napoleon Dynamite* and *Nacho Libre* do work because they give us characters who are true to themselves, but also, more importantly, characters that the filmmakers are true to as well. These films don’t ask us to do a 180 in how we’re supposed to be seeing these characters.

  • So no one in either the mainstream media or the Anglocentric portion of the Blogosphere is paying much attention to the new Gabriel Garcia Marquez movie or the recent Rosie Perez documentary about Puerto Rico. But this silly flick they pay attention to…

    And you all thought the Pedro character in that “Napoleon Dynamite” movie was dumb…

  • Noah Richards

    Yeah, Tonio! Fight the power! My god, with the plight of all these poor people, how DARE you watch a comedy! And such a BLATANTLY RACIST one at that! I’m sure that all the day laborers, like, totally have your back. By the way, I like how you somehow think that ‘Crash’ winning an Oscar (WASP guilt if it has ever been exhibited before) was going to open up the floodgates to a new era of color-blind fairytales. And you used the word ‘blogosphere’ which immediately disqualifies you from further conversation.

    Anyway.

    The movie is amusing. It’s not supposed to be any other way. And saying that ‘Napolean Dynamite’ is mean-spirited is a remarkable example of short-sightedness and lack of artistic comprehension.

  • MaryAnn Johanson

    “So no one in either the mainstream media or the Anglocentric portion of the Blogosphere is paying much attention to the new Gabriel Garcia Marquez movie or the recent Rosie Perez documentary about Puerto Rico. But this silly flick they pay attention to…”

    Well, true, that’s a valid question. How many screens are those movies playing on? How many people really want to see those things? People are really dumb, remember: they’d rather see a dumb comedy. I wish that were not the case, but it is.

    That said, how many people, even the dumb ones, really believe this is meant to be an accurate depiction of real Mexicans and real Mexican culture?

    Wait a minute… don’t answer that…

  • Okay, point taken, Noah Richards. There are more important issues out there to worry about.

    And for what it’s worth, I never seriously expect post-“Crash” Hollywood to be all that colorblind, no matter how many nice things George Clooney said about it. But it would have been nice to have been surprised.

    And yes, MaryAnn, it does seem that dumb comedies rule nowadays. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I watched too many Laurel and Hardy flicks to pretend I don’t like dumb comedies. But I also like smart comedies. And unfortunately, those are becoming an endangered species.

    And I’d like to believe that even the dumbest movie goer won’t consider “Nacho Libre” to be an example of social realism.

    But, again, it would be nice to see alternatives…

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