LUISA: “Life is like the surf, so give yourself away like the sea.”
If you enjoy traveling, you’ll love Alfonso Cuarón’s coming-of-age [and slightly political] film about self-discovery and transformation. Like every great trip, the film leaves you with laughs, adventure, sex-capades, and a bittersweet sadness.
I love traveling. For me, it’s all about the immersion into a culture you know nothing about. It’s revealing your ignorance. I didn’t realize how little I knew about people until I took my first trip to Europe. Then South America. Now I’m making it a goal to travel every year because I enjoy the adventure and self-reflection. You really discover the kind of person you are the more you meet others and experience things from different perspectives.
That’s the setup of Y TU MAMÁ TAMBIÉN, a film about two teenage boys who go on a quick road trip in Mexico with a married woman.
You might think: “Ho-Hum. I’ve seen this movie before…”
Well yeah…you probably have. But through its characters, the movie captures the true essence of the journey as opposed to being just another raunchfest about horny boys and a hot milf (those can be fun too).
Julio and Tenoch, hilariously played by [real-life friends] Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, have main priorities just like any teenage boy. Fuck the world. Sex. Party. Sex. Get drunk. Sex. Do drugs. Sex. Beneath the carelessness are the emotional insecurities that we all had as adolescents which explains the lack of respect we had for most things. In one scene, they jerk off at a public pool and a load of semen enters the water at the end; oddly enough, it’s artistically done.
This image is the perfect representation of male adolescence and their attitude toward sex and society.
At a family party, Julio and Tenoch meet the smokin’ hot Luisa (played by the radiant Maribel Verdú), who is also the wife of Tenoch’s cousin and invite her to go on a beach trip with them. She initially declines but after unforeseen circumstances, she later accepts.
So there you have it: two horny, naive teenage boys, a beautiful, experienced woman, and the Mexican landscape. Of course, all on their minds is sex, Sex, SEX. I won’t reveal what happens in detail but do the math: 2 hormonal dudes and 1 beautiful woman will usually translate to competition, peacocking, and most importantly, a sexual awakening. By the end of the film, Julio and Tenoch will never be the same and will point to this summer as their first lesson in adulthood.
Interestingly enough, the film has a narrator that provides contextual exposition for the story, but also political commentary on Mexico’s government at the time. It is my view that Tenoch and Julio can be seen as representations of their classes: the bourgeoisie and the proletariat and their relationship can be seen as the friction between these two classes. Luisa is probably the ideal intermediary between these two: selfless, humble, and intelligent.
I give all the praise to Maribel Verdú and her performance of Luisa. If you see this film twice (it’s definitely rewatchable), there’s a completely different layer and depth to her character the second time through. She’s absolutely amazing. That said, it’s quite brilliant how this subtext is interjected in a coming-of-age comedy. And it works.
However, the Cuaróns intelligently push these political tropes on the backburner because first and foremost, it’s a road movie. A fucking funny one. The situations they get into, their childishness, even watching their fights, I found myself laughing my ass off the entire time because at the heart of it, they’re just kids. It’s funny because life is really a cycle in the sense that the things kids fight about have the same degree of pettiness as what old people fight about.
As an adult, you always look back [or like me, cringe] at those angsty, teenage moments of you being a dumbass. But as a teenager, they were the most dramatic events in your life. Having Luisa, an adult, in the car points out the absurdity of their so-called problems. For example, when Julio admits he’s had sex with Tenoch’s girlfriend, all Tenoch cares about is the sex itself: Did she enjoy it? How long did it last? Did she cum? Nothing about the emotional attachment related to it.
These are the kind of authentic moments you wouldn’t normally see in a Hollywood teen flick [and that’s perfectly fine]. That’s probably the one thing I enjoy most about this movie: the truthfulness . Regardless of culture, these really feel like people you know. They’re relatable.
The Cuaróns do an incredible job in balancing this authenticity into film that caters to both art and entertainment. Many of the scenes feel like a documentary and are shot in one take with the help of the visual maestro, Emmanuel Lubezki (cinematographer of CHILDREN OF MEN, BIRDMAN, and THE REVENANT to name a few of many).
There are levels of realism in this movie that no writer could ever scribe because only actors could bring it to life. Lastly, the chemistry is all there. It has to be in a movie like this. No matter how great the crew is, getting the right cast can make or break your film, especially in a comedy, which is all about timing and chemistry. Fortunately for us, all three of the actors are perfect for each other.
Alfonso Cuaron is an extremely talented filmmaker. Just look at his track record: GRAVITY,CHILDREN OF MEN, HARRY POTTER and the PRISONER of AZKABAN, GREAT EXPECTATIONS — his films are so diverse and emotionally different. Not only that, they’re all good. In fact, I don’t think he’s ever made a bad film. I admire him because he’s a director willing to take the plunge regardless of genre just as long as there’s a good story to tell. That’s range.
Y TU MAMÁ TAMBIÉN is one of my favorite films because it truly captures the fun and absurdity of youth. Watching it in the summer is the best time because summers are usually those periods when personal growth and discovery occur. Every time I see this movie I feel like I’ve went on a trip with these characters and when it’s over, I often think about it a little more because like them, I somehow feel I’ve changed too.
- Cinema Treat: Long, one-take scenes of dialogue. Before BIRDMAN, Lubezki was a master of this craft and it started here (actually Woody Allen’s got you covered too)
- I would love to see a sequel to this film since I loved these characters [though it probably won’t happen]
- The photo-journalistic settings of this film are gorgeous and I think, a key part to why it really captured the essence of travel
This is part of an ongoing series where I will be doing movie reviews from my original ESSENTIALS Film List.