Y tu mamá también
First screened and reviewed in April 2002 / Most recently screened in May 2013
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Director: Alfonso Cuarón. Cast: Diego Luna, Gael García Bernal, Maribel Verdú, Juan Carlos Remolina, Andrés Almeida, Emilio Echevarría, Diana Bracho, Silverio Palacios, Mayra Serbulo, Ana López Mercado, María Aura, Liborio Rodríguez. Screenplay: Alfonso Cuarón and Carlos Cuarón.

Twitter Capsule: Pristinely made without an ounce of pretension. Colorful, thoughtful, sexy, incisive. Only wobbles on dismount.

VOR:   Invaluable as crest in Mexican cinema's renaissance; as boundary-pushing look at gender, class, sexuality, and nation all at once; as youth comedy built with exquisite formal care.

Ed. Jun 2013: For my fullest treatment of this movie, albeit in a slightly different register of writing, see my essay in the book Reading the Bromance: Homosocial Relationships in Film and Television, available here from Wayne State University Press or here from Amazon.

Photo © 2001 Producciones Anhelo, © 2002 IFC Films
Alfonso Cuarón's Y tu mamá también is a fantastically vital movie that manages to invest real humor, sensuality, and sympathy into a story about two adolescent boys acting like, well, adolescent boys—borrowing a car, ditching their hometown for a week, and concocting enough titillating details about their imaginary "destination" that a buxom, slightly older female acquaintance is cajoled into going along for the ride. When American filmmakers devote their energies to teenage road fantasies, how come we wind up watching implausible crap like Mad Love and Crossroads, where the characters seem both too polished to be true and too asinine to get interested in? Cuarón and an electric cast (including Gael García Bernal, the star of Mexico's last international sensation, Amores perros) get the details and the tones correct first: the greasy-haired dishevelment of most teenage slackerdom, the cultishness of car-worship and the religion of best-friendship, the immature "manifestos" that attempt to pass off utter aimlessness as a principled follow-through on strict behavioral codes. From this expertly rendered groundwork, the movie's social, sexual, and political reverberations can emerge organically, with what feels like zero prodding.

As the deceptively casual narrative propels forward, one of the most poignant of Y tu mamá's many dimensions is the unconscious brio with which Tenoch and Julio, the two protagonists, let the entire outside world roll like water off their backs. To an extent, and for somewhat different reasons, so does Luisa, their temporary comrade-cum-chaperone. Several times during the movie, Cuarón and co-editor Alex Rodríguez freeze a frame so the voice-over narration, supplied by Daniel Giménez Cacho, can articulate a brief moment of interior reflection by one of the characters on some private memory, ethical quandary, or sexual possibility. Because the movie is not cruel, the contents of these introspections are never exactly vapid, and nor is the audience permitted to feel that Tenoch, Julio, and Luisa are completely innocent of real, adult dangers and dilemmas. But the very fact that these internal thoughts are mouthed by an outside, invisible voice implies how dissociated these characters often are from even their most preciously guarded sentiments.

Meanwhile, armed militiamen apprehend impoverished-looking subjects on the sides of roads; politicians engage in overt corruption but are thanked and fêted by their well-frocked families; and other, less insulated households are rooted out of their homes by corporate developers. The audience observes these peripheral events only glancingly. Tenoch, Julio, and Luisa remark on them even less, though the narrator frequently proffers some anecdotal insights about these passing spectcles. Hence, the film takes on a fascinating status as a complex, ambivalent paean to youthful abandon: by the fifth act, childish fancies have had a strange way of coming true, but the enjoyment of them is muted and ephemeral, in part because we know we blinded the characters must be to aspects of their own experience in order to savor those moments of grace or abandon that life offers to them. With a remarkable, honest, entrancing combination of ignorance, bravery, self-protection, irresponsibility, and joyous libido, Cuarón's characters block out their surroundings almost entirely, yet still toast their glasses "to Mexico!" in their jubilant moments of late-night togetherness. They seem to feel much more kinship with their nation and fellow citizens than their limited attention spans and political imaginations would suggest. Are these characters failing to notice the stuff of life, even in the country they're driving through, and in whose honor they keep pouring libations? While the boys fight about who farted, or who fucked whom, small allegories of contemporary Mexican life are perpetually speeding past their car-windows, like discarded Polaroids. Or, are the central threesome willfully sacrificing a broader consciousness of the world so they can react with greater passion and more specific attention (however confused) to the spontaneous experiences of sex, friendship, and adventure that life doles out to them as individuals? Can we fault young people for their inevitable narcissism, or is something greater at stake? And do they even see that clearly into those pools of desire, rivalry, and restless aspiration into which they stare so intently?

Though its characters may be courageous or foolish, and probably a little of both, Y tu mamá también could hardly be smarter, funnier, or better composed, at least until its hastily dispensed and disappointingly conventional epilogue. Emmanuel Lubezki, Cuarón's longtime cinematographer, uses his camera exactly as he did last year in Michael Mann's Ali, and with equally brilliant results: his endless nuances of chromatic tone, ever-changing exposure levels, and highly affective framing preserve the extemporaneous mood of the scripted material while still producing a textured, carefully composed, and snappy-looking film. In general, the lively compositions and rambunctious tone of Y tu mamá también sheds light on why Cuarón's determinedly sleek remake of Great Expectations with Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow felt like such a pinched and maladroit affair. Nobody this attuned to the anarchic flow of youthful drives had any business mounting a twentysomething drama about the trendily young and the DKNY-wearing restless. We need more filmmakers like Cuarón, who speak with the greatest elegance when they are furthest away from big budgets and the pressures of pretension. If Abbas Kiarostami had a rebel-genius younger brother from Mexico, he might have made Y tu mamá también, which strikes me as about the highest compliment one could pay to a global filmmaker in 2002. Grade: A–

Academy Award Nominations (2002):
Best Original Screenplay: Alfonso Cuarón and Carlos Cuarón

Golden Globe Nominations (2001):
Best Foreign-Language Film

Other Awards:
New York Film Critics Circle: Best Foreign-Language Film
Los Angeles Film Critics Association: Best Foreign-Language Film
National Society of Film Critics: Best Foreign-Language Film
Boston Society of Film Critics: Best Foreign-Language Film

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