Y tu Judge Clark Douglas tambien!
Our review of Y tu mama tambien (Unrated), published March 10th, 2003, is also available.
A funny and moving look at human desire.
"Play with babies and you'll end up washing diapers!"
Facts of the Case
Julio (Gael Garcia-Bernal, The Motorcycle Diaries) and Tenoch (Diego Luna, Casa De Mi Padre) are best friends with a mutual problem: their girlfriends have just left for a long vacation. Julio and Tenoch attempt to console themselves by chasing other girls, but they have little success in their endeavors. One day, they make a breakthrough: they convince the lovely Luisa (Maribel Verdu, Pan's Labyrinth) to join them on a road trip to the beach. Luisa is a good deal older than both boys and is currently in a serious relationship, but impulsively agrees to the trip after learning that her boyfriend has cheated on her. Both Julio and Tenoch are eagerly hoping to bed Luisa, but things start getting complicated when one of them actually achieves this goal.
For much of its running time, Y tu mama tambien plays like a fairly typical road trip flick/sex comedy. Yes, it's a bit more frank in its depiction of sexuality than most films of this sort, it's subtitled and it sports considerably stronger technical craftsmanship than these films usually offer. However, large chunks of the movie will feel pretty familiar to anyone who's seen their fair share of American Pie/Eurotrip/Road Trip-type flicks. Then the film delivers a knockout left hook during its final fifteen minutes, as it analyzes, subverts and ultimately transcends the genre it belongs to.
The film's central characters are immature, sex-obsessed teens, but the film doesn't regard them as either crass heroes or obnoxious scum. It merely regards them—sometimes with a raised eyebrow, sometimes with obvious pity. Julio and Tenoch are just a hair above Harry and Lloyd in terms of maturity (one scene finds them shouting out the names of women they desire as they masturbate), and it's purely a matter of coincidental luck that they manage to talk a woman as intelligent and experienced as Luisa into joining them on their hastily-planned road trip. However, once the trip begins, their weathered automobile becomes a microcosmic study of physical desire, emotional maturity and the complexity of human relationships.
Y tu mama tambien stirred up a bit of controversy upon its release due its fairly explicit sexual content, but the scenes of sexuality (and there are quite a few) have considerably greater honesty than we're used to seeing on big screen. They're often awkward, messy, uncomfortable affairs, and the film is equally comfortable with male and female nudity. The film is obsessed with sex, but not in the chauvinistic "glory of conquest" sort of way you would expect. It's obsessed with the manner in which sex alters our behavior, uniting us and tearing us apart depending on how it's employed (and who is employing it). Both Julio and Tenoch are openly eager to bed Luisa, but when one of them actually manages to achieve it (through another series of largely coincidental circumstances), jealousies flare and arguments ensue. Luisa—an incredibly kind-hearted and understanding character, to put it mildly—takes it upon herself to try and repair matters, but her efforts initially just make things more complicated.
One of the earliest indications that Y tu mama tambien is more than a mere sex comedy is that it actually treats its primary female character like a human being. Indeed, Luisa is the film's richest and most mysterious character. Why did she agree to this trip, exactly? Why is she so willing to go along with some of Julio and Tenoch's schemes when she can see right through them? The answers may surprise you. Verdu gives us clues with her masterful performance. Observe the sympathetic yet amused look that crosses her face after a failed sexual encounter, and the way her body language becomes much more rigid once the relationship between the boys starts deteriorating.
And then, that multi-stage ending. I won't spoil it for you, but it has such an enormous impact on everything that precedes it. Suddenly, you see precisely where director Alfonso Cuaron's heart is, and recognize that the film is so much deeper than it seems initially. Throughout the film, there are moments in which the sound cuts out entirely and a narrator enters the fray to provide some droll commentary. Early on, this is mostly used to comic effect, with amusing asides offered amidst chaotic scenes. When the technique is used during the film's closing moments, the effect is closer to a punch in the stomach. It's a masterfully-constructed film.
Y tu mama tambien (Blu-ray) Criterion has received a splendid 1080p/1.85:1 transfer which highlights the film's exceptional location shooting and Emmanuel Lubezki's strong handheld cinematography (a technique employed to even more remarkable effect years later in Cuaron's Children of Men). Detail is strong throughout, permitting viewers to fully appreciate the film's above-par production design. Flesh tones are warm and natural, depth is consistently strong and there's no damage of any sort afflicting the imagery. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is excellent, and you'll notice just how nuanced it is every time everything suddenly stops and then starts again after a bit of narration.
As usual, Criterion has delivered a supplemental package is well worth exploring. First up, we have some excellent making-of featurettes, cleverly titled "Then" (an older piece running 11 minutes) and "Now" (a new piece running 41 minutes), both of which feature insightful thoughts from Cuaron, Bernal, Verdu, Luna, Lubezki and co-writer Carlos Cuaron. You also get an additional vintage featurette (23 minutes), an interview with philosopher Slavoj Zizek, a short film by Carlos Cuaron ("You Owe Me One"), some deleted scenes, a TV spot, a DVD copy and a booklet featuring an essay by Charles Taylor.
Y tu mama tambien is one of the finest films of Cuaron's career—a funny, energetic and ultimately devastating deconstruction of an often-insufferable subgenre. Criterion's Blu-ray release is top-notch.
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