Written and directed by Diego Luna and co-written by Augusto Mendoza, an ageing California pig farmer (Danny Glover) whose property is on the brink of foreclosure makes a last-ditch trip across the border to sell his prized hog. Also starring: Maya Rudolph, José María Yazpik, Joel Murray, Angélica Aragón, Gabriela Araujo, Paulino Partida and Johanna Murillo.
Fans may be more familiar with Luna for his work in front of the camera but Mr. Pig is his fourth feature to date and takes on a very different story than his previous politically driven projects. Danny Glover’s Ambrose serves as your classic cantankerous old bastard, he’s slightly unhinged and cares for nothing more than his prized hog, Howard. Glover may be mostly known for his comedy work from Lethal Weapon to the recent Jumanji sequel The Next Level but he’s had odd occasions over the years to prove more of his dramatic talents and this is a very good example. Glover’s performance is surprisingly emotional, perhaps mostly because the majority of that emotion is directed towards the pig, he’s intensely protective and paternal with his dear friend Howard. Watching a person’s dedication to their pet is always sweet but it adds an extra edge to it with the failing state that Ambrose is in, throwing a very unpredictable quality to what he’ll do to protect the hog. Pairing Glover with Maya Rudolph was a great choice, it’s a shame she doesn’t appear in the story even earlier but she immediately brings in such a generosity and compassion that she’s a joy as usual to watch. Their dynamic isn’t as complicated as the film tries to make it out as, yes she has some resentment towards her father for leaving but it entirely takes a back seat as she cares for him and helps him to find a new home for Howard, resulting in something quite simple but the two of them make a very enjoyable pair to watch, which makes up for that simplicity.
At its core, the story is about doing the right thing and how facing your own mortality can push you into making that extra effort to see that you do, which makes it very relatable and universal. The basic plot of Ambrose trying to do his best by a beloved pet is extremely sweet and only added to when Eunice (Rudolph) steps in to take care of him and enable him to see it through. It’s fairly soft and for the most part sticks to a familiar path, it may have altered the specifics to be much more swine based but its premise is relatively unoriginal otherwise. It does undercut a little bit of the predictability that comes with the familiar setup through Ambrose’s character, he’s gotten to a point where he’s a little forgetful and panicky so he is prone to outbursts of anger, leaving you somewhat unsure what he might do next. It’s a shame that it didn’t try to really strike out from the family friendly atmosphere and go for a bit more grit and reality which would have given it something different or a reason to stand out amongst the crowd.
One of the things that’s very clear with Diego Luna’s time behind the camera is how much he puts his homeland into his work, he tries to work with Mexican stories and to show the visual qualities that the country has to offer. It works extremely well here because by originating the story in the US and travelling it down across the border, he makes the story more widely accessible while still taking full advantage of the natural aesthetics that Mexico has on display. Particularly in the later scenes, you really get to see the beauty of the country, if you never wanted to visit it before, you very likely will after the stunning cinematography of its final scenes. Luna’s direction itself is fairly as expected for this type of film, much like the story it doesn’t stray far outside of the familiar.
Mr. Pig is one of those little gems you find while digging the depths of Netflix’s library, it takes a lot of scrolling but now and again you come across something sweet, heart-warming and entertaining. It doesn’t have a lot to offer that’s new or unique but adding a hog to the story that otherwise might be a role taken by a person, is a nice change of pace. There’s a certain offbeat charm to Ambrose’s dedication to his pig and it’s enjoyable to watch, Rudolph and Glover make a great pair as father and daughter, while it may not really attempt to explore their relationship in any depth, they have a lovely chemistry with a touch of banter. It’s not going to knock your socks off but for some easy watching that’s charming, a little bit unpredictable and sweet, it’s sincerely worth watching.