Film Review: “Omar and Cedric: If This Ever Gets Weird”

by Michael Flanagan April 2, 2024
Four men standing on a stage under the SXSW 2024 logo projected on a screen

Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, Cedric Bixler-Zavala, and Nicolas Jack Davies at the ZACH Theatre in Austin, TX. Photo: Michael Flanagan.

Omar and Cedric: If This Ever Gets Weird had its North American premiere on March 12 at the ZACH Theatre in Austin during the 2024 SXSW Film & TV Festival. Director Nicolas Jack Davies was on hand along with the film’s subjects to present the documentary, which chronicles the lives and creative partnership of artists Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala. The duo met as children growing up in El Paso before going on to a chart-topping, Grammy winning, and critically acclaimed career with At The Drive-In and The Mars Volta. 

Culled from more than 1,000 hours of self-shot footage by Rodriguez-Lopez spanning a period of over 40 years, the film is reminiscent of Grizzly Man (2005), Werner Herzog’s portrait of bear conservationist Timothy Treadwell, which pulls from hundreds of hours of footage shot by Treadwell during his months-long stays among brown bears in the Alaskan wilderness. While Treadwell was ultimately killed by one of the bears he had dedicated his life’s work to, Rodriguez-Lopez remains, scars and all, as the driving force behind Omar and Cedric. It’s also worth noting that Bixler-Zavala has himself reflected on Herzog’s work, comparing his own career trajectory to the journey taken by the eponymous figure in Fitzcarraldo (1982), a madman who endeavors on moving a 320-ton steamship over a hill, from one river into another, in order to build an opera house in the middle of the Peruvian jungle. Widely considered a masterpiece, Fitzcarraldo is notorious as one of the most difficult productions in cinema history. 

Davies tells Omar and Cedric’s story chronologically, beginning in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, where Rodirguez-Lopez was born to a salsa-loving psychiatrist father and doting mother who raised him following the tenets of La Gran Fraternidad, an organization with the belief that every religion, philosophy, and culture contains a part of the truth. Upon moving to South Carolina for work in the early 1980s, the young family encounters racist American culture that labels them as “spics,” resulting in a move to the predominantly Hispanic city of El Paso. This is where Omar and Cedric first meet while performing in the local punk rock scene, using their dissatisfaction with the corruption of the city’s white ruling class as fuel for these early forays into performance. Snippets from a short film show the adolescent Rodriguez-Lopez holding a burning globe amidst an intricately produced set that includes an array of maps and flags. It’s a prescient image that suggests these displays of youthful angst are developing toward a grander scale. 

Film still of two people performing, one on the right wearing white and holding a microphone

A still from “Omar and Cedric: If This Ever Gets Weird.” Photo: Clouds Hill Films

While the film’s narrative is primarily told through Rodriguez-Lopez’s perspective, it becomes clear early on that Bixler-Zavala plays a crucial role in their relationship. It’s the popular and outgoing Bixler-Zavala who shields Rodriguez-Lopez from discouraging bullies, cultivating a space where the latter is able to more fully develop his creativity, and it’s also Bixler-Zavala who later convinces his friend to return to El Paso after a yearlong hitchhiking trip around the United States, during which the teenage Rodriguez-Lopez had developed a heroin addiction. Upon his return to El Paso, Rodriguez-Lopez joins the upstart band At The Drive-In, beginning the decades-long journey of brotherhood, love, fame, betrayal, and sacrifice that makes up the bulk of Omar and Cedric’s more than two-hour runtime.

It’s an incredible story that provides an intimate look at a pair of uncompromising artists who push the limits of creative expression. For the legions of fans who feel they might be familiar with all things Omar and Cedric, the film features revealing insights about their creative processes and personal lives that draw from the many hours of never-before-seen footage. For those who aren’t coming to the film with the same level of familiarity, Omar and Cedric works as a gripping personal drama that tackles themes of addiction, grief, and redemption. From the deaths of close friends and family members to highly publicized legal battles with the Church of Scientology, the film covers so much ground that it’s sometimes difficult to keep up. It is an experience that has left me longing for repeat viewings. 

Omar and Cedric also challenges the notion that rock and roll does not quite rise to the level of “fine art” we expect from galleries and museums. While Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page recently announced an edition of 50 hand-played and hand-signed reproductions of his signature double-necked Gibson guitar for $50,000 a piece, others, like Don “Captain Beefheart” Van Vliet, have felt the need to quit music altogether in order to be taken seriously as artists. Rodriguez-Lopez, on the other hand, has never been one to care much about the opinions of others — he’s known to have completed several unreleased projects including records and feature films. His paintings, drawings, photographs, sculptures, and installations often fly under the radar as they’re spread throughout a prolific career that includes appearances on more than 100 records. Along with Bixler-Zavala, he’s meticulously crafted an aesthetic and mythology around The Mars Volta that put them on a stage with mainstream artists like Jennifer Lopez, 50 Cent, and Taylor Swift. It’s a world that feels like Andy Kaufman-meets-The Garden of Earthly Delights, and Davies has done an exceptional job of reigning in the chaos to a potent 127-minute cinematic experience. 


Omar and Cedric: If This Ever Gets Weird is currently seeking U.S. distribution. Watch the trailer below. Dates for The Mars Volta’s upcoming summer tour can be found here.

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