Gael García Bernal stars as Cassandro, a gay wrestler who became an unlikely star in Mexico. This true story is a major crowdpleaser.
PLOT: A gay amateur wrestler in El Paso reinvents himself as an “exotico” wrestler named Cassandro and becomes an unlikely star.
REVIEW: Cassandro is based on an unlikely but very cool true story. Gael Garcia Bernal plays Saúl Armendáriz, a struggling amateur luchador who reinvented himself as a flamboyant wrestler named Cassandro. He was an “exotico”, which was a stereotypically gay class of wrestler that was typically demolished to the delight of homophobic audiences. But, Cassandro was different. His winning personality and physical prowess won over his audiences, and he became something that was almost unheard of in Mexico, an exotico who won matches.
It’s an excellent role for Bernal, who gets a juicy role he can sink his teeth into. The character allows him to show his flair for comedy, his psychical prowess in the well-choreographed wrestling scenes, and heartfelt poignancy at times too. Much of the movie centres around Saúl’s relationship with his supportive mother, Yocasta, played by an affecting Perla de la Rosa. His dreams of wealth mainly exist so he can buy his mother a modest house in El Paso. Yet, he’s also not ridiculously idealized either, with him shown to be headstrong and reckless, to the point that he goes on a coke and booze binge the night before the biggest match of his career. He has a self-destructive side, with him engaging in a one-sided relationship with a married wrestler (Raul Castillo), who he wants to leave his family.
Nevertheless, you remain firmly on Cassandra’s side throughout. While the homophobia of the wrestling world is acknowledged, it’s not dwelled upon either. Cassandro actually meets a bunch of people who you expect to turn out to be red herrings but wind up being decent. His crooked promoter, Lorenzo (Joaquín Cosío) is presented sympathetically, and his coke dealer, played by Bad Bunny (the future El Muerto) in a small role, is ultimately also shown to be a relatively nice, non-homophobic guy.
Best of all, Roberta Colindrez is a female wrestler who trains Cassandro and takes him under her, becoming his most stalwart friend. If you’re a wrestling fan, you’ll get a kick out of the way big matches are restaged, particularly the final big bout with legendary wrestler “The Son of Santo.” Director Roger Ross Williams makes his narrative debut with this, and it’s an assured, energetic showcase. Running a lean 100 minutes, the movie has energy to burn, and Bernal is superb in the title role. This one is set for a Prime Video debut and should be a crowd-pleaser. In a nod to authenticity, the film is shot in a mixture of English and Spanish. At the same time, Williams adopts the now trendy 1:33:1 aspect ratio, which allows him to seamlessly blend video sequences meant to evoke Cassandro’s tv broadcasts with the rest of the film.
If you’re a wrestling aficionado, Cassandro is definitely worth checking out. The cast is terrific, and the film is a lot of fun. It has laughs, some action, and a big heart underneath it all which will have you running to YouTube to look up actual videos of the real Cassandro. He won’t disappoint.
Cassandro is now playing in limited release and starts streaming on Prime Video September 22nd.
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/cassandro-sundance-review/