OUR AMERICAN tradition of gross-out teen sex flicks from Porky‘s to American Pie may give you the wrong idea about Y Tu Mamá También, which bears many plot points—e.g., a diving-board masturbation contest—in common with such fare. A box-office sensation in Mexico, yet also an example of that country’s bold new wave in cinema (like last year’s Amores Perros), Mamá is both populist—lowbrow, even—and sophisticated. Base urges and serious aspirations mix untidily together.
To call its two 17-year-old protagonists merely horny is an understatement (jerking off is like breathing for the pair). To call the sexually adventuresome older woman—dude, an older woman!–they encounter implausible is inadequate. Everything about Mamá is hyperbolic, right down to the oversaturated colors and pristine white beaches attending this road-trip picture.
Our trio is sketched quickly before the car ride begins. Tenoch (Diego Luna) is a pampered establishment brat whose less privileged best friend, Julio (Perros‘ Gael García Bernal), attends the same Mexico City high school. Typical teens, the two care only for marijuana, music, and—most of all—sex. Julio gets to mooch off Tenoch, who, in return, can escape his preppy milieu with his streetwise pal. They’ve even got their own pot-hazed 11-point manifesto on how to be a charolastra—a kind of astral cowboy—that concludes, “Truth is unobtainable.”
And how. The boys think they know each other thoroughly, but with their girlfriends vacationing in Europe (after two swift, slapsticky goodbye fucks), their mission to get laid leads to a fuller adult understanding of the world. Their improbable tutor is Tenoch’s beautiful Spanish cousin-in-law Luisa (Belle Epoque‘s Maribel Verdú), whom they meet at a posh society wedding. Married to a cheating prig, the rather somber Luisa surprisingly accepts the priapic lads’ invitation to road trip to the beach.
THE BOYS’ DESIRE is clear: They only want to nail Luisa, the sooner the better. For her part, the 28-year-old has an agenda of her own, though it’s not clarified until Mamá‘s jolting if formulaic postscript. Certainly she’s no victim; the charolastras test her with their frank, raunchy banter, and she responds in kind.
Yet other (omniscient) remarks are even more revealing. An unidentified narrator intermittently comments upon the tale, lending unexpected subtextual depth to Mamá‘s picaresque high jinks. What’s that cross by the side of the road? We hear the story of a long- ago truck accident. Who’s the weathered peasant glimpsed through the car window? There’s another story of hardship to tell. Even a band of marauding feral pigs has its past and future explained! In this way, Mamá becomes a vividly entertaining survey of stratified Mexican society from top to bottom.
Likewise, our eyes are opened to Mexico’s grandly expansive landscape outside the chaotic city. Co-writer/ director Alfonso Cuarón A Little Princess) and his excellent cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Sleepy Hollow) widen the perspective and slow the pace in the countryside. Sun flares on the lens and remarkably long meandering handheld takes give Mamá a dreamy, almost fairy-tale-like quality. (Indeed, Luisa is essentially a fantasy figure whose generosity and wisdom forever transform our heroes.)
Mamá is also a coming-of-age story on a metaphoric level. “It only hurts when I think,” declares Tenoch’s T-shirt, speaking for an entire Mexican Gen-Y populace emerging from one-party rule and trying to balance tradition and MTV. The broader path to growing up may be similarly bawdy and funny, but there will also be painful lessons along the way.