Don’t be fooled into thinking that Y Tu Mama Tambien is just another trite love triangle movie, one that would have some catchy Sum 41 or Weezer song in all the promos. This movie is about far more than that. It’s about the nature of friendship, the consequence of action, teenage machismo, self-realization and learning what it means to enjoy life. This isn’t the Mexican version of Road Trip, either. They don’t get into wacky hijinks or the comedy of the absurd. Almost everything about Y Tu Mama T…mbien elicits audience reaction through its genuineness, its ability to get viewers to recognize the reality in the sometimes unorthodox relationships. It’s also got one of the most smoldering sexy women I’ve seen on the big screen talking about some seriously caliente subject matter (and at least according to female viewers I’ve spoken two, the two young men are attractive, too).
Y Tu Mama Tambien proves that no matter what language is being spoken, no matter what country a story takes place in, teenage boys are teenage boys. Such is the case with Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Tenoch (Diego Luna). They’re typically immature, sort-of adhering to a “boys club” manifesto (advocating such values as smoking pot and masturbating), splitting their sides over farting in a car and describing the bouquet. To each other, they put up a brave front at the idea that their women are heading abroad for the summer, shrugging it off as their chance to dip their beaks in other wells. When left alone with them, though, they’re sentimental and weepy (though that might just be to get them laid one last time, another sign of their age). They sit around, smoking pot and using the local country club when it’s closed on Mondays, and their summer starts slipping away from them, in relative ho-hum fashion. Even through some of their stranger behavior, they remain imminently identifiable, which is one of the many factors that make the film accessible to even the casual movie fan; one doesn’t have to have an interest in foreign movies to appreciate it. Moreover, it gives the audience a real chance to care about the boys, a credit to Garcia and Luna’s polished, authentic (and more than a little brave at this point in their careers) performances. They encounter the stunning Luisa (Maribel Verdu) at a family party. She’s stunning, and the two instantly try to ply her with their “charms.” Not long after the party, they convince her (or she decides) to go with them to a surfside paradise, a place only they know, a beach called “Boca del Ciel” (Heaven’s Mouth). The catch: it doesn’t exist. They made it up while trying to entice her, and now, they have to find such a place. Tenoch and Julio are resourceful young men, and eventually will set off in a beat up station wagon on a quest for the perfect beach. Along the way, they hope to have sex with Luisa…though neither of them are sure how, much less even thought of what that might do to their trip.
The boys’ performances would have been almost moot had it not been for the no less than brilliant job done by Maribel Verdu. She’s absolutely crackling hot, but not on the strength of sheer physical beauty (not that it’s an area of weakness, by any means). She is the true definition of “sexy,” a woman unafraid of desire, of her own body, of sex…she loves it, but she’s genuine about it. She takes on the role of road buddy, seductress, lover, teacher, counselor, even mother to these two young men, and in every way comes off as entirely effortless and purely authentic. The most impressive thing about her performance, though, is the sheer joy of living with which she imbrues Luisa, a subtle quality that really punctuates the film perfectly.
Anyone I spoke with about Y Tu Mama Tambien seemed to repeat a singular adjective more than any other: “racy.” Though I hate to boil a film this layered down that far, to a single quality, it’s difficult not to concur. From the very first shot, Y Tu Mama Tambien is very, VERY provocative, with a lot of nudity (mostly male, and yes, a lot of it frontal, but Verdu gets into the act, too) and a lot of explicit-type sex scenes as well as pretty frank sexual discussion. This quality certainly has the potential to turn a lot of viewers off in spots, but those who can get past it are rewarded with quite a film. In many ways, Y Tu Mama Tambien reminds me of Kevin Smith’s best work to date, Chasing Amy. The two friends who now feel tension because of one woman, the dynamics of the relationships between the pairs and the group, the genuine emotion and the laughs, and the somewhat “daring” feel to both are common threads between the two films. Y Tu Mama Tambien benefits from better directorial execution, though, as Cuaron’s camera gives the movie a more sophisticated, precise and well-executed feeling than Smith’s stagnant lens. The actors in YTMT are also far more experienced and far, far better (if acting were sports, Joey Lauren Adams wouldn’t be able to hold Verdu’s jock).
My only complaint about the film relates to the annoying unnamed narrator. He speaks from the omniscient third person, and since he never identifies himself as being in any way directly involved with the story, comes off as some narrative excuse, a cheap way to fill gaps because Cuaron is distrustful of the audience. Who is speaking? Is it a relative of the two? Chuy from the beach? God? At worst, it’s a minor complaint, and not enough to demerit the film to the next rating level. One doesn’t need a predilection toward foreign films to fully enjoy Y Tu Mama Tambien, thanks to its universal themes, the authentic emotions of recognizable characters, and a well-wrought, original and sexy story. It’s one of the finest movies of 2002, and one that deserves every bit of that four and a half.
The version I reviewed was the unrated version, presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen (though it’s available in a fullscreen and neutered version, as well). Y Tu Mama Tambien is one of those titles that are a little frustrating to write about from a technical perspective, because all one needs to really hear is that “it looks about as good as one can reasonably expect,” particularly from a small budget, independently-spirited foreign film. It’s neither outstanding nor lackluster; it’s just what digital technology SHOULD look like. The Mexican landscape backdrops may have had something to do with the dusty, dreamy overall look of the composition. Colors are light and breezy, and black depth tests fall between fair and good. There are no instances of glaring print damage or compression problems to complain about. Perhaps the highest compliment one can pay the picture on Y Tu Mama Tambien is that it looks extremely organic, natural, like a favorite old photograph. Menus are animated, and feature some of the film’s music.
The main track on Y Tu Mama Tambien is a Spanish 5.1, supported by optional English subtitles, and much like the accompanying video rating, there isn’t much to say one way or the other about it. What’s present is perfectly clear and fantastically natural, lacking any hint of post-production tinkering or polish. It’s just not overly concerned with filling up all six channels with forced material (nor should it be). Even so, it’s not an entirely wasted six-channel format, either. Y Tu Mama takes advantage of the chances it has to use off-screen noise, from directional dialogue to crowd murmurs at a bullfight. The film’s music, Mexican pop-type of songs and one of the many elements I loved about the feature, fills the front speakers and uses excellent stereo separation. It’s also the only element that utilizes the subwoofer. Y Tu Mama Tambien sounds fine, it’s just not going to blow the speaker covers off.
The unrated version of the DVD contains far more extras than the rated version (an interesting marketing decision by MGM), but it’s not exactly a top-notch bundle. The package starts off with a twenty-two minute featurette titled “Detras Da Y Tu Mama” (“Behind Y Tu Mama“). It’s audio is in Spanish with English subtitles, just like the film, and it proves that the puff piece isn’t exclusive to this side of the Rio Grande. The few interesting film-related tidbits I found were the various challenges of making an independent movie in rural Mexico and the backgrounds of the cast. Beyond that, it’s basically disorganized footage shot behind the scenes and thrown together with some Alfonso Cuaron narration. Speaking of Cuaron, this disc also includes one of his brothers, Carlos Cauron’s, short films, a twelve minute piece called “Me la Debes (You Owe Me One).” It’s funny, it’s sexy, and entertaining, much like the grand-scale feature film on the disc. A cast member commentary is also included, containing Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna and strangely enough, Andres Almeida, the guy who played the small part of Saba, Julio and Tenoch’s smoking buddy. They’re all very young, which contributes to their general enthusiasm for the material (read: they joke around and talk over each other a LOT), and if you speak Spanish, this track can be a fun listen. Unfortunately, if you don’t speak Spanish with a certain degree of fluency, you’re out of luck.
The unrated version also features three deleted scenes, none of which run more than ninety seconds. It doesn’t sound like much, but remember that this version has footage reincorporated into the movie itself (undetectably, from a production standpoint). The best one is the first, with Julio and his girlfriend in the car, but in reality, none of these should have been included in the final ‘director’s’ cut. The supplements wrap up with the film’s enticingly vague, 135-second theatrical trailer and a thirty-second tv spot. Seeing as this isn’t marked a “special edition,” the somewhat low quantity of extra materials isn’t a big disappointment. I would have liked a tiny featurette with some sort of comparison to the rated version, showing what the censors excised or what the final ‘theatrical’ cut looked like, but that’s about all I felt was missing. Either way, it, it’s a better package than what one gets on the rated version (trailer only).
Technically, there’s no way around it: the DVD version of Y Tu Mama Tambien is just ahead of average on all fronts. The video and audio are “just fine,” the extras are at best “decent.” That doesn’t stop me from wholeheartedly recommending this DVD to anyone who does NOT have an expressed aversion to foreign language films. Y Tu Mama Tambien is a fantastic movie that not enough American audiences saw, a rare combination of laughs, heart and heft, and has found a place in my “Ten Favorite Movies of 2002” list. It’s a sweet, spicy cinematic morsel from our neighbors to the south, and if you’re into foreign films, the unrated DVD is a keeper. Even if you aren’t into foreign films, do yourself a favor and rent or PPV it; the performances and interesting story are well worth the few bucks.
Special Features List
- Cast Commentary Track
- Short Film: “Me La Debes”
- TV Spot
- Three Deleted Scenes
- Featurette: “Detras Y Tu Mama Tambien”