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Motherly Lust

 

Y Tu Mamá También (And Your Mother Too)

Alfonso Cuarón, Mexico, 2001

Rating: 3.8

 

Posted: April 8, 2002

By Laurence Station

Imagine Y Tu Mamá También director Alfonso Cuarón pitching his film to Hollywood executives: The girlfriends of two horny teenagers have gone traveling to Europe for the summer, leaving the pair to their own lascivious devices. Soon after, the boys meet an incredibly sexy (not to mention unhappily married) older woman at a wedding reception, inviting her on a road trip to a magical beach paradise. Amazingly, the woman agrees to tag along, and wild sex ensues.

Hollywood, which has mastered the ultra-dumb teen sex-comedy formula, would have no trouble grafting a tried-and-true template to the director's vision. Fortunately, Cuarón doesn't go the safe Hollywood route, choosing instead to make Y Tu Mamá in a direct, raw and almost documentary style that's not only a bluntly honest look at oversexed adolescents, but an incisive examination of the power women wield over men, be they 14 or 40.

The two teenaged friends in Y Tu Mamá come from radically different backgrounds. Tenoch (Diego Luna) is the son of a well-connected politician, while Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal) is the product of a decidedly lower-class, broken-home environment. The tension inherent due to their varying social stations -- reinforced repeatedly by roadside incidents ranging from migrating peasants to thuggish police shakedowns -- provides an extra layer of depth that round both characters out nicely. Luisa (Maribel Verdu) is the discontented 28-year-old Spanish wife of Tenoch's arrogantly intellectual cousin.

The base motivation of the boys is never in doubt, and it's to Luna and Bernal's credit that they never break from the childish behavior and macho posturing required of their respective characters. The two revel in fart jokes and relentlessly worship at the altar of Onan, all the while objectifying women and retreating from the fact that the strongest attraction felt is for one another.

Verdu's Luisa is the far trickier role, being more archetypal Madonna/Whore masturbation fantasy than actual three-dimensional character. Fortunately, Verdu does stellar work interpreting a part that’s far too top heavy for its own good. When her husband drunkenly calls her late at night to tell her he’s slept with another women, the reaction by Verdu is awkward, mortified and enraged, excruciatingly laid bare in front of the camera. A later scene, where the boys peep into her hotel room in hopes of catching her naked, only to find her weeping uncontrollably, works marvelously because Verdu handles the emotional outburst so naturally.

Cuarón deftly manages the male coming-of-age road trip storyline. It's Luisa's character -- specifically the enormous amount of psychic baggage she must bear -- that doesn't translate as well. Luisa must satisfy the boys sexually and be their mother too. She must be wise but impulsive, empathic yet distant. It's asking too much, and the film suffers for it. What makes Tenoch and Julio so appealing is the lack of artificial depth imposed on their characters. For a film that works so hard at being intensely voyeuristic, having Luisa embody ideals and insights more than realistic strengths and weaknesses is a disservice to the frank mood the movie strives so earnestly to portray.

Another contrivance that detrimentally interferes with the film's direct tone is the intermittent appearance of an omniscient narrator who informs us of not only individual characters' unspoken thoughts and feelings, but the fate of stray pigs as well! Such exposition would have been better handled through action or dialogue: Stopping the momentum to impart this background information is a huge narrative gamble that fails to pay off.

The acting is strong across the board and the dialogue reasonably spot-on. But it's the hand-held camerawork of Emmanuel Lubezki (Ali, Sleepy Hollow) that's the true star of the film, moving through the world of Mexico City and beyond with incredible candor and ease.

Y Tu Mamá is an entertaining, powerful film that deals with sex in an open, unashamed manner. And, unlike so many Hollywood teen flicks that have come before it, actually respects the characters it's commenting on. Unfortunately, the key female figure remains just that -- an embodiment of feminine ideals rather than a flesh and blood woman.

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 3.0-3.9: Solid fare

 2.0-2.9: The mediocrities...
 1.1-1.9: Poor
 0.0-1.0: Utter dreck
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