Cool But Unattainable: Alfonso Cuarón’s Y Tu Mamá También (2001)
If someone were to hear about a film where two horny young men take a sexy slightly older woman on a road trip to the beach, what would they think? That it would be a frivolous, raunchy good time? Y Tu Mamá También, Alfonso Cuarón’s 2001 film features two lead characters who think they are in a sex comedy, and one who is aware of the world around her. The first time I saw this film, I myself was a teenager. Admittedly, the film’s reputation as an erotic and lusty comedy was a selling point. This film was one of the first truly adult films I had ever seen, and it was thrilling. Rewatching it now, it’s still all those things… but it’s so much more. Cuarón utilizes the sex comedy genre to depict his native country of Mexico at a very specific moment in history.
Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal) comes from a middle-class family, while his best friend Tenoch (Diego Luna) has a father well connected in politics. Both of their girlfriends are leaving for a vacation in Italy, and the two friends are excited for a summer of partying and hooking up with other girls. At a family wedding, Tenoch sees his cousin’s wife Luisa (Maribel Verdu) after a long time. Instantly attracted to her, the two boys invite her on a trip to an invented, secluded beach Boca del Cielo (Heaven’s Mouth). Luisa’s husband confesses to cheating on her, and she decides to go on the trip with Julio and Tenoch. The three of them set off to find this mythical beach, and the two guys hope to score with the alluring Luisa.
Alfonso Cuarón wrote the film with his brother Carlos Cuarón, and there is such a remarkable specificity to the characters. Julio and Tenoch maintain that the truth is cool, but unattainable in their silly manifesto. The class conflict between Julio and Tenoch is always present but never spoken. The faults in their friendship are bubbling under the surface, even as they joke around each other. Luisa is far from the sensual sex goddess one might expect from a film like this. She has a sense of humor about this road trip, and her life in general. The difference in maturity between she and her two companions is really noticeable—Luisa has real issues in her life and this trip is more to her than the thrill of sleeping with two younger handsome guys. Luisa is far more self-aware than her male companions, often taking them to task for their childishness. She has fun with them, and teaches them about love and friendship.
In addition to the fascinating character dynamics between the three leads, the Cuarón brothers paint a portrait of Mexico in 1999. Y Tu Mamá También shows the political climate of the country after Vincente Fox’s successful campaign against the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which had ruled Mexico for decades. The film has snapshots of political unrest and corruption—the car passes by a man stopped by the police perhaps unfairly, the boys dismiss a protest—and the film becomes a rich tapestry of an extremely crucial moment in history.
Both Alfonso and Carlos Cuarón choose to have an omniscient narrator (Daniel Giménez Cacho), who adds in details and relays what happens in the future. The diegetic sound goes completely off, and Giménez Cacho’s booming, matter of fact voice comes in. The narrator suggests a world beyond this road trip to paradise, as people suffer and survive tragedies of life. With the diegetic sound going out, Cuarón indicates that the characters might be in a bubble, but we the audience should not be.
Cuarón’s frequent cinematographer Emmanul Lubezki captures the Mexican landscapes and the film is mesmerizing to behold. The beauty in the visuals of the film is a mask to the underlying growing pains of Mexico’s new government. The carefree sex comedy, in turn, is a mask to the interclass dynamic between Julio and Tenoch and the sorrows in Luisa’s life. Not to imply that this movie isn’t fun. Y Tu Mamá También is romantic and wistful, and its eroticism is equal parts awkward, hilarious, and rather sexy. Ultimately, however, Alfonso Cuarón suggests that the blithe whims of a Western sex comedy are cool, but unattainable because real life has its way of sneaking up on you.