You know when a foreign movie’s tagline is “Learn F*****g Spanish” that you are in for a treat. “Promedio Rojo,” the debut feature by Nicolas Lopez, is one part Tarantino, two parts Kevin Smith and three parts “American Pie” (or “Latin American Pie” as Lopez puts it) but somehow manages to be an entity all its own. A semi-autobiographical look back at the hell that was high school “Promedio Rojo” deals with social outcast Roberto’s (Ariel Levy) attempts to win the affection of Cristina (Xenia Tostado) away from class hunk Fele (Benjamin Vicuna). With a plotline we’ve seen a thousand times, “Promedio Rojo” stands out thanks to its abundance of style and its ability to lend a gravity to the characters and their situations not present in most American teen comedies.
Roberto’s life ambition is to become a famous enough comic book writer so that he can sell his ideas to moviemakers for millions of dollars. While he has his plan mapped out, the first major hurdle to cross is simply finishing high school. Along with his two best friends, Condoro (Nicolas Martinez) and the simpleton Papitas (Berta Muniz), Roberto simply wants to survive the pain and humiliation of school life. His daily routine is suddenly given meaning upon the arrival of new student Cristina who can hold her own in a discussion about comics and is not immediately repulsed by the sight of our awkward hero. When Cristina finds herself drawn to the “deep” high school Casanova Fele, Roberto tries his best to drive a wedge between them.
What separates “Promedio Rojo” from its American counterparts is in its ability to plunge over the edge in terms of humor. Roberto’s revenge fantasies consist of him dressed as a very fat super hero. Roberto’s grandfather fakes his own death for attention, the school nurse is into BDSM, semen and vomit are allowed to fly freely, in the midst of a touching story about a boy’s search for love is one hell of a comedy. For a film that lifts many themes and situations from past movies, Lopez picks his source material well including a dead character later appearing as a ghost dressed as Obi-Wan Kenobi.
None of the off the wall humor would mean anything if it was not attached to an engaging story and it is in this department that Lopez really delivers. Roberto seems to genuinely care for Cristina and it is this affection that grounds the outlandish proceedings surrounding them. During a party, Roberto can no longer stand seeing the girl he loves with another man and gets hammered, tries to start a fight and then sings off key about how much he cares for her. When she meets him outside he attempts to profess his love in between bouts of vomiting. The fact that the audience is able to connect to Roberto is a testament to the acting of Levy and the writing/directing of Lopez.
“Promedio Rojo” is scattershot at times and never exactly reinvents the wheel in terms of storytelling, but nonetheless manages to be a consistently entertaining, wildly funny and surprisingly moving account of one young man’s battle for the girl of his dreams.