Y Tu Mamá También
2001, NR, 105 min. Directed by Alfonso Cuarón. Starring Maribel Verdú, Gael García Bernal, Diego Luna, Martha Aura Palacios, Diana Bracho Bordes.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., April 5, 2002
Willie Nelson's cracked pipes warned decades ago that, whatever mamas do, they should not let their babies grow up to be cowboys. But there are no mothers present in Y Tu Mamá También (despite the film's snarky literalism, And Your Mother Too), so there is no one there to prevent 17-year-old best friends Tenoch (Luna) and Julio (García Bernal) from going astray. Julio's working-class mother must work long hours to make ends meet, while the elitist mother of Tenoch is too busy visiting spiritual gurus to bother much with her son, a floppy-haired trust-fund baby. So the boys – tightly wound with testosterone, mellowed out by innumerable joints – are left to their own devices for the summer after graduation. That mostly means jerking off in tandem and fine-tuning the manifesto of their motley gang of “space cowboy” friends. The boys' sedentary lives – and the film – find focus when they stumble across Luisa (Verdú), the luminous Spanish wife of Tenoch's distant cousin and, eventually, the enigmatic Catherine to their ragtag, doped-up Jules and Jim. In their cups and cocksure, Tenoch and Julio brag to Luisa of the perfect beach, Heaven's Mouth, and offer to take her there. Of course, the beach doesn't actually exist and they never expect her to say yes. But then she does, proving in fact you can get what you want, but you might not be ready for it. The trio set out on a road trip to the mythical beach; Luisa is consumed with an unknown personal tragedy, the boys are consumed with getting in Luisa's pants. And they do, although Luisa is the one calling the shots throughout, seducing each boy separately and, finally, inevitably, both boys at once. A box-office smash back home in Mexico, Y Tu Mamá También created a minor scandal when teenagers picketed for entrance to the 18-plus film. (Officials eventually capitulated.) It now arrives in America unrated, a sign of the MPAA's befuddlement over a film so overtly sexual, but in a way most peculiar to American audiences. The sex here – and there's a lot of it – isn't played for laughs of the American Pie order, nor is it used as a means for coy titillation. Director Alfonso Cuarón lays it all out there, body parts and sweat and coarseness, a fumbling, messy act more in keeping with the way regular people -- that is, not people in movies -- have sex. Y Tu Mamá También marks a startling stylistic shift for Cuarón, whose English-language films (A Little Princess, Great Expectations) are breathtaking, but chilly, obsessive works of art. Here, in his native country, he is looser, sexier, more political, with the boys' shaky adolescent steps toward manhood standing in for Mexico's own turbulent coming-of-age. Only the omniscient voiceover is a throwback to Cuarón's earlier staginess. It's unnecessary, considering the actors tell us everything we need to know with commensurate charm and devastation. Luna and García Bernal (of Amores Perros, last year's import that snapped everyone's attention to Mexican cinema) have a natural, foul-mouthed ease (the actors have been friends since childhood), and Verdú quietly dazzles as the film's catalyst, both the lover and the missing mother figure for the boys. She quite rightly shakes them out of their cowboy swagger. Luisa also has her own story to tell (tragedy hangs over her head like a satellite dish), a crisis that goes unrevealed until film's end, but is telegraphed throughout. It's a needling distraction, because this isn't Luisa's story. It's Julio and Tenoch's, their funny, terrible tale of growing up, of getting what they want, and realizing they don't want it after all. At film's end, the mood returns to the languor of the beginning, that feeling of directionlessness, which is in keeping with the full circle the boys have made. It's an unsatisfying end, partly because the narrator jumps in to pontificate too much, partly because we are made to crave clean, succinct conclusions in which love is won and everyone goes home happy. Julio and Tenoch do not go home happy, and love is lost rather than won. It's the love that really mattered -- not of that spectral older woman, but of each other.