Y Tu Mamá También (2002, U.S. release)

Not rated.

Starring Maribel Verdú, Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna.
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón.
Written by Alfonso Cuarón and Carlos Cuarón.
Distributed by IFC Films.
105 minutes.

LVJeff's Rating: 9/10

Photo ©IFC Films. All rights reserved.

Just Add Honesty

Director Alfonso Cuarón has pulled off something rather difficult -- he's created a substantive movie out of several cliched movie structures: the road movie, the coming-of-age movie, and the teenage sex comedy. That Y Tu Mamá También turned out as well as it did can be considered quite a triumph over complacent cinematic banality. But it's not a happy accident, for Cuarón used well a secret ingredient -- honesty.

Honesty was hitherto largely missing from the genres listed above. Consider them, each one at a time. The teenage sex comedy is often just an excuse for raunchiness for the sake of raunchiness, where the goal is too see how many gross gags and naked girls can be squeezed into one movie. The coming-of-age drama is often too convenient, featuring a naive somebody who is taught important life lessons by somebody else and who feels appreciative about it in the end. The road movie may be the most contrived of all, giving its storyteller open reign to insert any number of wacky adventures that he or she can dream up.

However, with the use of a narrator and an observant, almost documentary-like style, Cuarón breathes genuine humanity into his story of two aimless teenage Mexican boys and their car trip with an older woman. He pulls no punches when depicting the decadent lifestyle of Tenoch (Diego Luna) and Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal), who smoke pot, have sex with their girlfriends, and spend their time posturing rather than conversing. Like many teenage boys, they are crude and the activities they involve themselves in are crude. Cuarón shows them for what they are and makes no excuses for them. For instance, we see them graphically having sex not because of romantic reasons, nor as the set-up for some ludicrous gag, but because all parties involved, boys and girls, are simply horny and available.

During the summer, while their girlfriends are away visiting Europe, the two boys meet Luisa (Maribel Verdú), the wife of Tenoch's cousin, at a party. Obviously drawn to her attractiveness, they b.s. about themselves and invite her to join them on a trip to a supposedly beautiful secret beach. They're just screwing around and they naturally don't think she will really take them up on the offer, so they are surprised when one day she calls them up and asks if the trip is still happening. The two don't want to miss this chance to spice up their mundane summer, so soon the three of them are driving out to a fictional place. Having just found out that her husband has cheated on her, Luisa uses the trip to liberate herself. Along the way, she gets to know the boys and starts to call them out on their macho talk, at first teasingly but later seriously.

Rather than use the road trip as an excuse for a string of silly episodes, Cuarón uses it to set up a step-by-step exposure of how empty the boys' lives really are. The first steps come along the road as they pass by the landmarks, poor people, and government enforcers of Mexico; sealed up in their little self-absorbed world of sex jokes and braggadocio, they barely even notice the world outside them. Later, Luisa's actions will unintentionally trigger a rift between the friends, and they begin to see just what their friendship is really made of, which is, sadly, not much.

By the end of the movie, we in the audience are certain that the boys must have learned something on this trip, though we wouldn't be able to tell what it is by the looks on their faces. They began the trip with a hollow sense of self-confidence and indestructability, but by the end of it they face confusion and insecurities. Luisa has indeed taught them life-lessons, but thankfully we don't get any flash-forwards to the adult Tenoch and Julio, saying how thankful they were for the experience. Their adventure was revealing to them, but the revelations were not comfortable, nor should they have been.

Because Y Tu Mamá También is presented with such honesty, the movie is filled with glimpses of the many facets of life: joy, sadness, excitement, awkwardness, fun, and pain. The final product is a raw and thoughtful movie. All this in the form of three tired genres. Sometimes all it takes is a different spice to turn something old new again.

©Jeffrey Chen, Apr. 11, 2002

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