Teen-agers on the road to awareness

`Y tu mama tambien' is a lusty and lyrical trip

May 10, 2002|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

SUN SCORE

( **** - FOUR STARS)

Y tu mama tambien is a great, lusty movie in the tradition of Bertrand Blier's Going Places. A screen original, it has the added excitement that even a great adaptation can't give you - seeing a fresh vision in first bloom.

In this lyrical road movie, two Mexico City teen-agers, Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Tenoch (Diego Luna), lure an unhappy young married woman, Luisa (Maribel Verdu), into a car with the promise of finding a mythic beach called "Heaven's Mouth."

Y tu mama tambien (or, And Your Mama, Too) is one of the most cutting and heart-wrenching depictions of adolescent friendship in contemporary movies - and, more unexpectedly, a subtle and robust exploration of what it's like to grow up amid national crises. Without explicit connections or message-mongering, this movie relates equally to baby boomers who were students in the Sixties and to college students now.

An unseen narrator periodically stops the narrative and silences the dialogue to fill us in on everything: Mexican politics, the social details of the boys' variously privileged Mexico City lives, and the sudden deaths and violent dislocations that pockmark both that metropolis and the glorious landscapes off the road. Humor and revelation go hand in hand. Even the reactions of their girlfriends' parents to them (the girls go off to Italy at the start) ignite comedy about the prejudices and confusions of a country beset by corruption, conscience-less commercialism and huge rifts between the middle class and peasants or workers.

Tenoch is the son of a rich politician who's had trouble with the law. Julio is the son of a struggling single mother. Both are bourgeois boys at the stage of life when they carry themselves like silly princes. These high school graduates come off as both exuberant and exploitative. They see their families' belongings as hoards to be raided. Unlike Julio's older sister, they have no interest in politics. Yet, they exude a disregard for authority and the wisdom of all adults - except Luisa, who is half-child herself. Endemic to the years after pubescence, their anything-goes anarchy reaches fever pitch when society offers no outlet for teen energy and outrage.

Instead of the wondrous thing it is, the movie would be trippy and whiney without Luisa. She's just as unsure of herself as the boys. Yet despite grief over her busted marriage (and over something else we don't discover until the end), she hasn't lost her appetite for life or her belief that a person can find happiness when willing to merge with something bigger - even, for a time, the buddyhood of Tenoch and Julio, who call their extended friendship group the Charolastras or "astral cowboys." They stand for tenets as diverse as loyalty and masturbation.

Our accepting the ability of Luna's fresh-faced Tenoch and Bernal's resentful Julio to link up with Luisa is the biggest miracle of this movie. Luisa becomes their earth angel; she leads them toward sexual awareness and an understanding of themselves in ways The Graduate's Mrs. Robinson never contemplated. So gleeful and rambunctious en route, in the end this movie has the bittersweet rapture of an inspired elegy - the kind that confirms and expands on your most intimate memories of a shared experience.

In its own episodic fashion, the movie scores a half-dozen offhanded, unfettered and often slapstick coups: scenes that peerlessly capture quick and sloppy teen-age sex, as well as the antiheroes' dawning awareness that there's a reason for adult sex to be called lovemaking. Incisive thumbnail sketches of the discomfort and deviltry aroused in teen-age boys at functions like a fancy family wedding, and of their arrogant assumption that their private concerns interest or amuse everyone else at their rural rest and recreation stops. And a portrait of a male friendship that grows more competitive and charged the more open it becomes.

In Y tu mama tambien, director Alfonso Cauron and his brother, screenwriter Carlos Cauron, take a certain kind of male growth experience to the limit. They're brave enough to end without clarifying whether the characters have matured or merely retreated into conventional college forms. Yet the depth of feeling in the final scene divulges how much Luisa has taught them about the basis of any new beginning: respect for life.

Y tu mama tambien

Starring Maribel Verdu, Gael Garcia Bernal, and Diego Luna

Directed by Alfonso Cauron

Rated Unrated, with explicit sexuality

Running time 105 minutes

Released by IFC

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