Y Tu Mama Tambien

Road movies don't come hotter than Y Tu Mama Tambien (And Your Mother Too), that rare teen comedy about guys who learn to see beyond their own hard-ons. The politics and poverty of present-day Mexico City don't mean much to rich boy Tenoch (Diego Luna) and middle-class Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal) — they're too focused on getting laid. They're also seventeen and the kind of friends who stretch out on diving boards and jerk off in unison. Like puppies who'd fuck any leg that's handy, Julio and Tenoch are at a loss when their girlfriends take a vacation in Italy.

What to do? Find fresh meat. At a wedding they meet Luisa (Maribel Verdu), a twenty-eight-year-old Spanish knockout married to Tenoch's cousin. They tease her with lies about an idyllic beach — Boca del Cielo (Heaven's Mouth) — they plan to visit by car. Luisa is a class act, out of their league. That is, until she learns her husband is cheating and decides, in an act of revenge, to go along for the joy ride.

From that setup, director Alfonso Cuaron — best known in the U.S. for two resolutely unshocking English-language fantasies, A Little Princess and Great Expectations — spins a script with his brother Carlos that takes unexpected comic and dramatic turns. With the help of his longtime collaborator, the gifted cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezski (Ali, Sleepy Hollow), Cuaron gives the sex scenes an exhilarating, unforced carnality. At a motel, Tenoch hops out of a shower, grabs a towel, then finds a pliant Luisa waiting for him to drop it. When she brushes her face against the boy's wet crotch, the scene has a sensuality that is neither mechanical nor pornographic. No wonder Julio, who peeks at the two of them, is both turned on and jealous. Later, when Julio is alone with Luisa in the car, he gropes her like a panting adolescent, his hands and mouth all over her breasts. She teaches him to channel that frenzy into something more lasting.

Unlike American sex comedies, where fucking a pie is always a handy option, Y Tu Mama Tambien is a film that uses sex to unlock secrets. The resentments Julio and Tenoch feel toward each other underscore a homoerotic attraction. Luisa's secret is more painful. But when the boys find the beach they never thought existed — the place is being decimated by developers — what they discover opens their eyes to each other and the world. Bernal, 20, and Luna, 19, radiate lusty zest, but it's Verdu — a striking combination of oomph and delicacy — who gives the film a gravity that makes its points stick.

Cuaron's return to his roots adds to the resurgence in Mexican cinema marked last year by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Amores Perros. Cuaron's hot-blooded, haunting and wildly erotic film revels in the pleasures of the flesh without losing touch with thought and feeling. Its emotions are as naked as its bodies. The result shames Hollywood claptrap such as 40 Days and 40 Nights that passes off crudity as the latest in cool. Y Tu Mama Tambien is in Spanish with English subtitles. Don't worry. Very little gets lost in the translation.

From The Archives Issue 893: April 11, 2002