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Film Review: Y Tu Mamá También (2001)

It’s hard to describe Alfonso Cuarón’s road movie, Y Tu Mamá También, and do justice to all its subtle complexity. It’s been called a teen comedy and a coming-of-age film. It’s got sex, alcohol, drugs, summer flings, and friendship. But, it’s also about love, life, and loss and, unexpectedly, a little about the political and economic state of Mexico at a certain moment in time (i.e. 1999).

Julio (Gael García Bernal) and Tenoch (Diego Luna) are best friends and teenagers with nothing to do after their girlfriends jet off to Italy for the summer. Left to their own devices, the boys spend their long days laughing, drinking, smoking, and swimming. At a fancy wedding that Tenoch’s political father forces them to attend, the boys meet Tenoch’s cousin’s beautiful Spanish wife, Luisa (Maribel Verdú). After initially declining the boys’ invitation to go to a hidden (and made-up) beach called Heaven’s Mouth, Luisa receives news of her husband’s infidelity and decides she wants to get away. Thus, an unusual and stimulating dynamic is formed among the three travelers as they drive across Mexico to find their elusive paradise. The rowdy and energetic boys find themselves attracted to, challenged, and educated by the adult Luisa and have their friendship torn apart and stitched together again over the course of five days.

Two pairs of close collaborators—real life best friends Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal and director Alfonso Cuarón and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki—do stellar and complementary work with each other. Luna and Bernal lend their characters an easy sense of youthful camaraderie and a necessary closeness that explodes on-screen in their most heated moments. Cuarón’s best and perhaps most personal work is expressively brought to life by Lubezki’s unpolished but still impressive long takes and creative use of framing through windows and mirrors.

Boldly acted, stunningly shot, unapologetically explicit, and deeply, ineffably emotional, Y Tu Mamá También reveals both shockingly much and tantalizingly little about its three core characters while managing to balance the story delicately between them and the Mexican backdrop. The omniscient narrator elucidates invisible secrets about the immature teens but also widens the scope of the film by revealing stories about lesser characters as the camera pulls away from the main story to draw attention to a passing detail or bystander. Viewers also see the class divisions between Julio and Tenoch (which go from zero to sixty in a gasp-inducing way), the vastly different levels of maturity between the boys and Luisa—who is really only about 10 years older than her companions but already weighed down by experiences in life and love—, and the hidden depths in each character. Verdú is terrific especially as the mesmerising third lead who is not merely an object of sexual desire but someone full of self-possession, agency, and emotional depth and complexity. At the surprise ending, the narrator’s words of finality belie a world of heartache, unspoken emotions, and unfulfilled possibility bubbling beneath the surface and left sitting heavily in the hearts of the characters and the audience.

Ratings (out of 5):

Directing: 5

Story: 5

Acting: 5

Dialogue: 4

Editing: 4

Visuals: 5

Music/Score: 4.5

Overall Average: 4.6

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