Sundance Film Review: ‘Mr. Pig’

Danny Glover and Maya Rudolph play a father and daughter on a Mexican road trip in Diego Luna's undercooked third feature.

Mr Pig Sundance 2016
Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

Diego Luna’s third narrative directorial feature, “Mr. Pig,” stars Danny Glover and Maya Rudolph as an irascible father and long-suffering daughter on a fateful road trip from Southern California to the Jalisco region of west-central Mexico. Their seriocomic journey is colored by grace notes of direction and performance, but it’s also rather undercooked in the script department, the somewhat uneventful, not-particularly-insightful progress proceeding at a pace somewhere between leisurely and soporific. Pic will need critical support to get a leg-up in any theatrical exposure, with modest prospects in home formats.

Already evading calls from his only child Eunice (Rudolph) when we meet him, 75-year-old Ambrose (Glover) is hiding several things from her — not least the fact that he’s losing his hog farm to the bank. Nor has he informed her he’s about to hit the road on a southbound mission with his last remaining livestock, a handsome mud-colored heifer called Howie. Making it past the border (though not past a couple bribe-siphoning local cops), he, his hog and his omnipresent bottles of booze catch a few winks where they can, not bothering with the formalities (or expense) of motel rooms. Their destination is the ranch of Payo (Jose Maria Yazpik), whose late father was a great friend of Ambrose’s.

After a night of good food and better tequila, however, our protagonist gets a gander at the factory-farm conditions Payo keeps his livestock in, and impulsively cancels his planned sale of Howie — even though the thousands Payo was prepared to pay (for old times’ sake) were intended to be Eunice’s inheritance. By the time she shows up, worried sick about her evasive and inebriated father, both man and beast are ill; it turns out Ambrose has been hiding health issues far more serious than yet another hangover. Still, he insists on continuing the journey — now to another old friend further south who promises a happy home, and perhaps some cash, for the massive pig who itself is the last of a prize-winning line.

It’s good to see Glover — whose insanely prolific, undiscriminating resume of late has made room for such unpromising obscurities as “Day of the Mummy,” “Ninja Immovable Heart” and “Bad Asses 3” — get a substantial leading role in a movie that isn’t low-grade cheese. He traces Ambrose’s rapidly deteriorating physical with ease. But psychologically, the script (by Luna and his “Abel” collaborator Augusto Mendoza) just doesn’t provide a lot of depth to work with — for him or for Rudolph, also a welcome presence in a rare non-comedic role. Their conscientious performances only go so far to maintain involvement in a tale that has no real reason to reveal so little of its protagonists’ shared family past. It also could have used some more flavorful incidents along a spare narrative route that too frequently feels on the brink of aimlessness.

The overall result is not exactly dull, but given the talent and potential here, should have been more poignant and memorable. There is, however, a charming fadeout that finally renders the pig co-star more than just a novel plot device.

Shot more or less chronologically to suit the story’s geographic itinerary, “Mr. Pig” benefits from Damian Garcia’s crisp widescreen lensing of diverse Mexican landscapes. There’s also a pleasant original score by Camilo Froideval, and a nice selection of various-artist golden oldies (not yet credited in Sundance preem print’s end scroll) presumably culled from Ambrose’s 1960s youthful heyday.

Sundance Film Review: ‘Mr. Pig’

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Premieres), Jan. 26, 2016. Running time: <strong>95 MIN.</strong>

  • Production: (Mexico) A Canana presentation. (International sales: Preferred Content, Los Angeles.) Produced by Pablo Cruz, Diego Luna. Executive producers, Arturo Sampson Julian, Levin Balcells, Gael Garcia Bernal, Eric Bonniot.
  • Crew: Directed by Diego Luna. Screenplay, Augusto Mendoza, Luna. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Damian Garcia; editor, Douglas Crise; music, Camilo Froideval; music supervisor, Lynn Fainchtein; production designer, Lourdes Oyanguren; costume designer, Mariana Watson; art director, Luis Rafael Rojas; set decorator, Luis Fernando Lopez; sound, Yuri Laguna; sound designer, Frank Gaeta; visual effects supervisor, Raul Prado; assistant director, Hiromi Kamata; casting, Heidi Levitt, Viridiana Olvera.
  • With: Danny Glover, Maya Rudolph, Jose Maria Yazpik, Angelica Aragon, Gabriela Araujo, Pablo Cruz, Johanna Murillo, Carisa de Leon, Gerardo Elizalde, Alejandro Luna, Raymundo Medina, Hector Molina, Joel Murray, Paulino Partida. (English, Spanish dialogue)