Highway to heaven
Alfonso Cuarón’s coming-of-age Mexico road movie is special
Y Tu Mamá También opens boldly with two naked teenagers making raucous, frenetic love in a suburban bedroom. The daring frankness of the first moments gives way to a comic exchange between the two frolicking lovers, and that’s followed by yet another shift of direction—the sounds of the love play go silent, and a voice-over narrator makes deadpan comments on the kids’ social background as the action continues.
Explicit sex is an obvious selling point with Alfonso Cuarên’s much-admired new film, but its multi-leveled approach to an impressive array of subjects is what makes it something really special. The sex stuff is rowdy, sloppy, funny, and ultimately it is absorbed into something like tragicomic farce. And the film has a multitude of modes with which to engage us—road movie, coming-of-age story, minimalist melodrama, sneakily grown-up teen flick, picaresque slice of life in contemporary Mexico, etc.
Mexico itself is one of the main characters as a result. But in a more conventional sense there are three main characters—two cocky young guys, Tenoch (Diego Luna) and Julio (Gael García Bernal), whose girlfriends are vacationing far away in Italy, and the slightly older Luisa (Maribel Verdú), a Spanish lass who is not so happily married to one of Tenoch’s well-to-do cousins.
The two pals, on a whim, invite Luisa to travel with them to a supposedly paradisiacal beach called Heaven’s Mouth, and as she absorbs the incoming bad news about her health and the state of her marriage, she decides to take them up on their offer. The subsequent journey is a makeshift affair that has some surprising rewards, and some hard lessons on top of that.
Y Tu Mamá También has the richness of a picaresque novel for the 21st century, complete with casual, irreverent exposures of grotesquely imbalanced society through which these somewhat privileged pleasure-seekers are making their way.
Luna and Bernal are superb as best friends who know less about themselves than their cocksure demeanor suggests. And Verdú is exquisitely human as an increasingly mysterious character—victim, sex instructor, would-be earth mother, companion in errant adventure.