Following closely behind Alejandro González Iñárritu's breakthrough success for Mexican film, Amores Perros, Alfonso Cuarón's Y tu Mamá También has been described as the next step in a new Latin American cinema of liberation. Well, okay, Y tu Mamá También is the sort of film that inspires hyperbole because there's been so little to get excited about since Pulp Fiction (the ultimate in splashy but overrated indie cinema). There's no question that this is a highly entertaining, clever, and even thoughtful film, but at its core, it's a little too simplistic to be labelled brilliant.
Cuarón and his brother Carlos have fashioned a screenplay with the quality of fable. A narrator takes the audience through the story, pointing out what the characters refuse to notice, can't know, or will not discuss. The characters are archetypal: Tenoch Iturbide, the privileged son of a high-level Mexican politico is best friends with Julio Zapata, of the lower-middle-class. The two horny teenagers, dope-smoking and screwing their way to college, enjoy their joie de vivre at the pointed expense of the underclass around them. Their symbolic names, along with the characters' repeated obliviousness to their surroundings, unsubtly define the gulf between the people of Mexico and their seemingly untouchable sociopolitical fate.
Bereft for the summer of their backpacking girlfriends, Tenoch and Julio talk their way into escorting the somewhat older (and married) Luisa to see a utopian beach that they've made up in conversational desperation. That their final destination is more than they could have hoped sends the message that while Mexico is still, as Cuarón puts it, a "teenage" country, the dream of a better Mexico is an attainable fantasy. But the brothers Cuarón also depict the willful repression of spirit (both sexual and soulful) that, for now, keeps things as they are.
The resulting road movie is a sexually charged, funny romp that has it both ways, devolving older audiences into sex-crazed partiers and pausing to remind them of the political undercurrents and the personal cost. It's also equal parts clever, then, and facile, drawing reasonably accurate character sketches, but also inflating them to symbolic status, with the boys lusting for the angelic, suffering "mama" while she teaches them the ways of love (and that they're really hot for each other but can't admit it). Like the beaten-up station wagon that carries the protagonists, the personal exploration arguably poops out just when it should rev up. The sociopolitical criticism, furthermore, goes little deeper than the plentifully displayed skin.
Cuarón makes it all surprisingly easy to swallow, buoyed by the not-so-secret weapons of his crack cast and regular cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Sleepy Hollow), whose virtuosic, sweeping camera, like the narrator, carries the audience away for the duration. Real-life buddies Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal (Amores Perros) are both comic forces burning a slow fuse to their ultimate poignant detonation, while Maribel Verdú pulls off the trick of making her character's hairpin turns credible.
Perhaps not unlike the college toward which the boys are heading, Y tu Mamá También succeeds as a party, but stops short of a fulfilling education. Though not one for the ages, it will certainly do for now.