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The International Writers Magazine
: Review

Y Tu Mama Tambien
Dan Schneider

I bought a used DVD of Y Tu Mama Tambien (the uncut version) quite a few months ago, but never quite got around to watching it till recently. The 2002 film got generally rave reviews from most critics for being ‘frank’ in its sexuality- with some seeing it as a triumphant coming out story of young homosexuals, while others saw it as a literate sort of Porky’s. The truth splits the difference.

Y Tu is basically a teenage ‘road’ picture by Alfonso Cuarón, the director whose biggest previous film was the odd update of Great Expectations, with Gwyneth Paltrow, in the late 1990s. The film is about two Mexico City teens, Tenoch (Diego Luna) and Julio (Gael Bernal) who hook up with the cuckolded wife of Tenoch’s cousin Jano Luisa (Maribel Verdú). Basically, the two horny boys’ girlfriends leave for Europe for the summer and after Luisa’s husband confesses his infidelity she begs to go on a road trip with the boys, who are eager to take the 28 year old sexpot away to a mythic beach they have told her about.

The friends both end up screwing Luisa, then inflicting pain on each other by professing to have screwed each other’s girlfriend. Luisa is about to leave them both when they promise they will do things her way. They stumble upon a beach, have some adventures, then get drunk one night with Luisa, are prepared to engage in a threesome, until Luisa simultaneously takes both of them in her mouth. This penile congress leads the two boys to a night of homosexuality without Luisa’s presence. The next day one vomits over his debauchery, they leave Luisa at the beach, return to Mexico City, and part. Two years later they meet at a café one last time, discuss the fact that Luisa died of cancer a month after their road trip, and never see each other again- Tenoch heading toward a life in the upper crust, while Julio goes off to community college.

Anyone expecting anything deeper than this summary bought in to the PR campaign. The acting, by and large, is passable at best. Neither male lead shows any depth, but Verdú could be a star in Hollywood if she learns English. The problem is that despite its claims of ‘frankness’ the tale is just dull and hackneyed. The boys are off the rack horny male teenagers, then without any real reason, supposedly reveal a homosexual attraction for each other. The problem is that neither lad gives any prior indication that they are gay. Sure, they shower at clubs together, snap towels, jerk off at poolside, and share sexual boasts- but that’s standard heterosexual behavior. Prior to their night together both boys show their utter helplessness to Luisa’s wiles, so the night they share comes off as nothing but a plot contrivance to play to male homosexual fantasies- that all men who are friends are really latent, everyone’s sexuality is on a ‘sliding scale’, etc. Pish-posh, I say. I know lesbians, too, like to say ‘Once a woman’s tasted snizz she’ll never go back to plain old gizz’ but, c’mon- this is an example of plain old bad screenwriting by Alfonso and Carlos Cuarón.

However, even worse than the gay pandering is the diminution of female sexuality. When Luisa’s death via cancer is told it is supposed to be a ‘shocking’ revelation of her behavior in the film. But, nowhere in the film is this even hinted at. It feels like a tacked on ending a bad screenwriter needed because he could not handle the fact that a cuckolded wife might wanna get revenge on her hubby by taking two teens’ stiff salamis between her thighs. That motive is a ‘real’ one in keeping with the rest of the script. The death by cancer is just a copout. It also underscores the fact that the graphic sex scenes are meant to titillate males in the Tenoch-Julio demographic, not explore deeper meanings. Yet, the scenes are so graphic that they are utterly void of eros. I mean, naked ass cracks and dirty penises are not ‘erotic’- unless you’re a bestialist. Even worse than the non-eros is that the characters are dull and thoroughly unengaging- neither likeable nor detestable enough to stir any real viewer emotions. Also, this dull film is not even silly enough to be entertaining porno.

The only good portions of the screenplay are several intercalary moments where a narrator reveals the pasts and futures of minor characters, as well as interior motivations for the main ones as the rest of the film goes silent. The camerawork is very amateurish, and I was greatly disappointed to find out that Mexico’s wonderful scenery is so unused.

The title comes from a scene where the boys argue over Luisa, then one ‘confesses’ that he screwed the other’s mother, yet the viewer senses that this, just like the boasts of the boys re: screwing each other’s girlfriends, is bullshit.

Much the same can be said of the director’s pretenses to depth. Yes, he dangles out social, sexual, and mortal themes- but only as bric-bracs for the simpleminded to hang their wares on- none of them, nor their consequences, are explored as eagerly as Luisa’s magnificent form- the real reason for the film’s existence. I sense Cuarón simply wanted to make a ‘bad boy’ film before submitting to a life of Hollywood mediocrity. Ok, that’s the film’s flaws- as for the DVD, why can’t foreign language films come standard with dubbed versions? Even the worst dubbed Godzilla films are infinitely superior to subtitles.
Film is a visual medium, folks- it is far easier to ‘smooth over’ a bad dub job with the ears than it is to read subtitles and also engage in the visual pleasures of film. The extras are fairly standard- a making of video, a trailer, and a short film by Cuarón that shows off his monomania with sex. The film transfer is solid, but nothing spectacular since the film is not a ‘visual’ film by any means.
(Cuarón's new film 'Harry Potter adn the Prisoner of A' comes out this weekend.)

A few months ago I watched another highly praised foreign film- Atanarjuat - that was a massive disappointment. Y Tu Mama Tambien is not as bad as that film, but I do get tired of critics who seem rapt by foreign films that mine the same material that Hollywood tripe does, with just as little success, yet somehow draw raves. Here’s the only cogent piece of advice the film imparts, and its aimed only at the Tenoch-Julio demographic: Do not whack off too much or you will diminish your sexual continence. Thankfully I learnt that lesson before watching this film.

© Dan Schneider, June 2004
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