By Jeffrey M. Anderson
Watching Y tu mamá también (which translates into an insult, "and your mother too"), I couldn't help thinking of John Hughes' 1985 teen classic Weird Science, in which a couple of randy schoolboys (Anthony Michael Hall and Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create on their computer a grown, older woman (Kelly LeBrock) with tremendous sex appeal.
Through her guidance (and with the movie's PG-13 rating intact) both boys learn to accept themselves as who they truly are and they both find girlfriends on their own terms. But they never get to have sex with the older woman.
Y tu mamá también is basically the same movie, but this time no one goes without (if you know what I mean). So much so that the film is being released "unrated" in the U.S. It feels a little like vindication for all those would-be teen sex comedies we suffered through in the 1980s.
The story has two bored Mexican youths Julio (Gael García Bernal from Amores Perros) and Tenoch (Diego Luna) who, when their girlfriends jet off to Italy, find they have the whole summer on their hands.
At a random family wedding, their sights land on the lovely, slightly older Luisa (Maribel Verdú) and they begin flirting with her, without realizing that she's married to Tenoch's doltish cousin. They spontaneously invite her on a road trip to visit a fictitious beach and she declines. But when her drunken, sorrowful husband calls her to admit an infidelity, she decides to leave him and uses the road trip as a good place to start.
So Julio and Tenoch must head out aimlessly in a beat-up car and hope that they get laid before Luisa realizes that their beach does not exist. They pass the time by explaining to her the rules of their friendship and lifestyle. Luisa seems impressed by their maturity and tenacity.
Along the way, a narrator lets us know about certain points of interest and biographical details, much like in Amelie. Most of the details are throwaways, but, in small ways, they're entertaining and enriching.
Nothing in director Alfonso Cuarón's earlier work, including A Little Princess (1995) and Great Expectations (1998), would lead us to believe that he had such a sexy, playful, vivacious film in him.
Cuarón and his co-screenwriter (and brother) Carlos use the standard road-trip outline to build conflicts and friendships among their three characters, and it works beautifully. They smooth out the genre's conventions by capturing a specific side of Mexico -- sun-baked laziness, joyous music, noble people, ripe sweet fruits -- it's like a vacationer's idea of paradise without the tourists and five-star hotels. It evokes a perfect feeling of summer in which you don't have to wear shoes for days and days if you don't feel like it.
In this atmosphere, Luisa seduces poor, eager Tenoch. I've read that baby rattlesnakes are the most deadly because they haven't yet learned restraint. They simply inject all their venom into their victim immediately. Teenagers are a little like that as well, and Tenoch's lovemaking does not last long. But things immediately turn awkward as Julio gets jealous and tells Tenoch that he'd slept with his girlfriend.
Julio's turn comes soon enough, which evens things out. But at a final stop, after a long evening and many tequilas, Luisa unleashes her most audacious side and gives the boys an evening they'll never forget (in both good and bad ways).
Y tu mamá también cops out with an unnecessary epilogue that explains away some of the characters' behavior, but until then it's a beautiful, wild, open-hearted and open-minded ride. The film's energy never lets up and the characters are fully and satisfactorily explored.
In our country, which never knows how to deal with sex and sexuality, Y tu mamá también is a most refreshing import and an absolute must-see for anyone open to it.
Blu-ray notes: Y tu mamá también went on to become one of the highest grossing foreign language films in America, and received an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay. (It did not receive a Best Foreign Language Film nomination because of the dumb rules behind that category.) Now in 2014, Cuarón has won a Best Director Oscar and Y tu mamá también arrives on a glorious Criterion Blu-ray.
Now, I have spent years talking about the beautiful, sensual way that Cuarón moves his characters through their environment in each of his films, but this movie is far more stunning than I ever remembered it. It's very much worth seeing again. Extras include two sets of interviews, one from 2001 and a brand-new one. There's a vintage (silly) making-of featurette, a few minutes of deleted scenes, trailers and TV spots, an appreciation by philosopher Slavoj Zizek, and a funny short film directed by Carlos Cuarón.