Film Review: Y Tu Mamá También (2001)
If you’ve ever listened to my podcast Very Important Playlist, you know just how much I adore this film. And if you’ve listened to Thirst Aid Kit’s episode on Gael Garcia Bernal, you know just how intense this film can be. Directed by Alfonso Cuarón, Y Tu Mamá También is one of those films that perpetually lingers in your head years after watching it - it’s crude, it’s sentimental, it’s political, it’s methodological. But most of all, it’s a coming of age about two teenage boys and their older lady companion as they embark on a road trip along the Mexican coast that changes all of their lives.
- spoilers again duh -
There’s quite honestly no better way to set the tone of the film than the opening scenes in which Tenoch (Diego Luna) and Julio (Bernal) individually engage in very quick, teenage sex with their respective girlfriends before sending them off to the airport for the summer. You immediately know that this means they’re ~free~ for now to pursue anything and everything their small minds could desire. After a couple scenes of mutual masturbation and smoking pot, the boys meet the very alluring and much older Luisa (Maribel Verdú). Luisa, who’s been going through her own set of issues regarding her debilitating health and broken marriage, agrees to partake in this very bizarre road trip to a mystical beach with the boys which sets off the events of the rest of the film.
And as it turns out, this road trip serves to reveal many things for everyone involved. Important to note throughout the film is the presence of an omniscient narrator; the objective male voice gives commentary as things unfold among the three characters, injecting the larger political metaphor represented by them. Tenoch comes from a wealthy family as the son of a high-ranking corrupt politician while Julio comes from a poorer leftist family. Ideologically, the oppositional political and economic differences permeate throughout the lives of the two boys, even if the two have a seemingly harmonious, testosterone-filled friendship. For example, Tenoch is uncomfortable and out of place whenever he's in Julio’s house, the body language signifying his distaste for working-class life (see: toilet). And while on the road trip, the narration and camerawork frequently draws attention to the experiences of strangers on the side of the road, many of whom similarly come from impoverished lives. Additionally, the inclusion of the older Luisa, who is ethnically Spanish, and the pieces of American propaganda add multiple layers of transnational contexts to consider in viewing the film.
But let’s get to the juicy stuff - sex! If there’s one thing people know about Y Tu Mama También, it’s that it’s not afraid to be crude and unabashed about the idea and portrayal of sex. Throughout the road trip, Tenoch and Julio only ever seem to talk about their ~macho~ sexual conquests and it’s all light and fun and pubescent. That is, until Luisa does a free-for-all after decidedly leaving her cheating husband and has sex with BOTH Tenoch and Julio (first with Tenoch, then with Julio to equalize the two). Both scenes are unfiltered and uncomfortably quick, to Luisa’s dismay, but this begins the first real fragmentation of the boys’ friendship. They later find out they’ve both had sex with each others’ girlfriends behind their backs and the screaming match scenes between them are some of my favorite scenes of the film. It is here that the socioeconomic differences creep to the foreground of their relationship.
Later, after everyone somehow makes up, the three get very drunk and laugh off all of their sexual transgressions - from the boys having sex multiple times with each others’ girlfriends to Julio revealing he had sex with Tenoch’s mother too (hence the title). Soon, all three are dancing sensually together from the outdoor rest area and into the bedroom. From the beginning, the sexual tension between not just the three characters, but specifically between Tenoch and Julio was THICC and it finally comes to a surprising and explosive consummation that definitely left my college film class audibly gasping and woo-ing.
The film ultimately comes to an uneventful end following that night. Tenoch and Julio have since parted ways and we find out that Luisa has just passed away from cancer. Her time spent with the boys was intentional given her knowledge of her prognosis from the very beginning. The way the film wraps up with all these different elements leaves you sort of out of breath and in deep contemplation of life, death, sex/sexuality, and friendship. What seemingly is a simple coming-of-age road trip movie is so much more and is a true testament to the multitudinous talents behind the creation of Y Tu Mama También - from directing, writing, cinematography, acting, and more.
Y Tu Mama También is available for streaming on Netflix!