Road movies don’t come hotter than Y Tu Mama Tambien (the phrase translates from Spanish as ”And your mama, too”). It’s about two teenage boys, and an impulsive journey involving both an older woman and sexual discoveries. The politics and poverty of present-day Mexico City don’t mean much to rich boy Tenoch (Diego Luna) and middle-class Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal). They’re too focused on getting laid. These guys think of themselves as worldly sophisticates attending to their appetites. Director Alfonso Cuarón, works with a quicksilver fluidity. The movie is fast, funny, unafraid of sexuality, and ultimately devastating.
The film’s surface is described in a flash. The two teenagers are free for the summer when their girlfriends go to Europe. At a wedding they meet Luisa (Maribel Verdú). She’s the wife of a distant cousin, and happens to be 10 years older than the boys. Personality wise, she’s sexy and playful. They suggest a weekend trip to the legendary beach named Heaven’s Mouth. When her husband cheats on her, she unexpectedly agrees to accompany Tenoch and Julio on the trip. She takes it upon herself to educate these squalling teenagers. There’s always a trace of sadness in her brimming eyes. This sort of storyline could have been conventional, but it is anything but.
Luisa kids them about their sex lives in a lighthearted but tenacious way. At the same time, she teases them with erotic possibilities. The film is realistic about sex, too. Unlike American sex comedies — where having sex with a pie is always a handy option — Y Tu Mama Tambien is a film that uses sex to unlock secrets. Whether Luisa will have sex with one or both of her new friends is not for me to reveal. More to the point is what she wants to teach them — that women are not prizes, conquests or targets. They are instead the other half of a precarious unity. With the help of Cuaron’s longtime collaborator Emmanuel Lubezski (Gravity, Birdman, The Revenant), the sex scenes within the film hold an exhilarating, unforced carnality.
The director’s lucid storytelling skills and his instinct for getting at unsettling emotional states are huge parts of this film’s power. The progress of the story provides the surface arc of the movie. Next to it, in a kind of parallel world, is the Mexico they are driving through. They pass police checkpoints, see drug busts and traffic accidents, drive past shanty towns, and are stopped at a roadblock of flowers by villagers demanding a donation. At times during this journey, the soundtrack goes silent. We hear a narrator who comments from outside the action — pointing out the village where Tenoch’s nanny was born and left to seek work at the young age of 13. Or a stretch of road where, two years earlier, there was a deadly accident. The roadside images are a reminder that in Mexico and many other countries, a prosperous economy has left an uneducated and penniless peasantry behind.
The boys find the beach they never thought existed. The place is being decimated by developers. However, self-discovery opens their eyes to each other and the world. For a while, Mamá‘ becomes bathed in lusciousness. The picture takes on the unhurried carnality of a ’70s film. Bernal and Luna radiate lusty zest, but it’s Verdu — a striking combination of oomph and delicacy — who gives the film the gravity that makes its points stick. Even when throwing herself into the sexual games that become part of the trip, Ms. Verdú sinks her teeth into her role and devours it. She is the engine that drives every scene she’s in. She teases, quizzes, analyzes and lectures the boys with the task of turning them into beings fit to associate with an adult woman.
Ms. Verdú’s suppleness is astounding, and she matches the daring nature of Mr. Bernal and Mr. Luna. In a sense, she fills the standard role of the sexy older woman. Her character is so much more than just the stereotypical Hollywood archetype. She’s wiser, sexier, more complex, happier, and also sadder. It’s in the final moments of Mamá when the threesome are roused out of their dreams. Mr. Cuarón’s offhand ability to startle finishes off the happy-ending expectations.
By the end of ‘Y Tu Mamá También, Julio and Tenoch are left with their eyes wide open. Cuaron’s hot-blooded, haunting and wildly erotic film revels in the pleasures of the flesh without losing touch with thought and feeling.
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