Directed by Alfonso Cuaron
After much deliberation and thought, I decided that this controversial Mexican road trip film had to make my list. It typically falls off and jumps on my lists every other year, as I get gun-shy about including it. As much as I try and move past this film, it still continues to bother me (in the good way), to engage me with its story, and confront me with its characters. That has emboldened me enough to include it on this list. I know that many of you are completely unfamiliar with this film and are wondering what on earth makes it so controversial, so let me explain.
Y Tu Mama Tambien (spanish for “And your mother too”) was the breakthrough critical hit film for Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron (director of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban). The film tells the story of Julio and Tenoch’s summer after high school graduation and before college. They set out to woo Luisa, an older woman who is loosely related to Tenoch, and they eventually convince her to head out on a beach trip with them. The rest of the film follows their journey and their attempts to try and score with Luisa.
What makes the film a controversial choice is that it’s an extremely sexual film. The film contains several graphic sex scenes, as well as constant explicit dialogue. Throw in some casual drug use (which there is) and we have the makings of your average teenage sex comedy. If you know me at all, you should know that my least favorite genre is the teenage sex comedy. So what gives?
Although it retains the outline and characters of a sex comedy, Y Tu Mama Tambien is really a film about moral immaturity masquerading as sexual freedom. The film ultimately subverts and destroys all the typical pleasures of your normal sex comedy. Rather than making Julio and Tenoch the heroes in the story, the film takes every chance it can to make them into failures.
They make promises to their girlfriends to stay true, and promptly break them at the first chance. They make a code of ethics between each other, and end up breaking nearly every one of them (even sleeping with each other’s girlfriends). When they finally end up “scoring” with Luisa, they are not conquering victors; they are immature children who care nothing for her. Jealousy, rage, unforgiveness, and pettiness are all traits that our leads will eventually come face to face with.
The art direction and cinematography also work to convey the moral decay of our two leads. There is a particular sequence at a motel pool, where the decrepit and uncared for pool mirrors the decay of leads. There is also a narrator who breaks into the film every now and then and gives some human detail about the locations and areas our leads pass through. Most of the time it’s about someone who died in an accident on the spot they passed through, or some secret detail about the character itself. This voice-over completely revolutionizes the film, exposing the self-centeredness of our supposed heroes.
There is a secret that our narrator does not reveal and that we do not find out about until the end, and its reveal is devastating. The final sequence finds our two lead characters stopping for coffee as changed men; their immature debauchery clearly behind them and the obligations of the present pressing upon them. It’s a sobering sequence, and it stands in stark contrast to the gratuitous sexual triumphs of lesser films.