Review: Y Tu Mamá También (2001)

y tu mama tambien

So that’s how you go about building up a resistance…

Screenplay By: Alfonso & Carlos Cuarón
Directed By: Alfonso Cuarón

There’s a small voice in the back of my head that is telling me that hype had a part to play in my reaction to Y Tu Mamá También. I’ve heard about this film for years, and Alfonso Cuarón is one of my favorite directors working today. Yet, when the film had finished my thoughts could be best summed up as; eh, that was alright. Because of the director and the fact that so many other people have told me how great this film is for so long now, that small voice formed. There has to be a reason beyond the film itself for why I didn’t come away screaming from the rooftops about the greatness of Y Tu Mamá También. That small voice grew larger after I had finished the film, until it reached a point where I believed that my thoughts on the film were driven almost purely by hype. If I simply hadn’t of heard about how great Y Tu Mamá También was for all those years, then I would have loved it just like everyone else. When I started thinking that I realized that I was dangerously close to giving the film a pass on its faults. Sure, hype did play a minor role in Y Tu Mamá También not living up to my lofty expectations. But, the faults within the film most bear the brunt of the blame for the film not being as great as it should be.

The reason that Y Tu Mamá También never reaches greatness is because of the god awful narration. Now, I’m not as opposed to narration as I used to be. I like a good bout of narration in my films from time to time. But, I absolutely hate it when narration tells us what the characters are already expressing through emotions or actions. That is the sin committed by the narration in Y Tu Mamá También, and it commits said sin far too often. I was okay with the narration when it was providing background information or anecdotal facts. For instance, when it described the fate of Chuy’s family. In that example the narration didn’t describe something I could see happening, but a fate that the film did not have time to fully explore. When Luisa is sitting in the back of the car and the narration pops in to tell me about fears and emotions that I can already see present in her eyes and on her face, well, I had to roll my eyes at the uselessness of that narration. Y Tu Mamá También is full of too much of that kind of useless and overbearing narration. If I have actors readily displaying the emotions of their characters, I do not need narration to tell me exactly what the actors are trying to emote.

I realize that I have been quite negative so far in my thoughts about Y Tu Mamá También. That’s a result of feeling let down by the quality of the film. No, Y Tu Mamá También is not the great film I had hoped, and been told, it would be. That doesn’t mean that Y Tu Mamá También is a terrible film, by any means. The narration does drag the film down, but it can’t destroy the nice visual touches or the ease with which the three main actors form and portray their characters. Maribel Verdú, Diego Luna, and Gael García Bernal are all fantastic in their roles. They are the main reason why the narration wasn’t needed, because they provided all the emotional information that I needed as a viewer, and then some. Alfonso Cuarón restrains himself visually, but he focuses where the focus needs to be, on the faces of his actors and the landscape of the country they inhabit.

The story is about more than its three characters, I got the sense that Mexico was the true character of the film. It’s changing landscape could be seen during the journey, in the various locales, and was mirrored by the characters themselves. Luisa is the level headed but fun side of Mexico, that is slowly being destroyed by the disingenuous people who dominate her life. Julio and Tenoch are the wildness of Mexico, the rebellious side of the culture that needs to not lose sight of what is important as the times change. Unfortunately Luisa is overcome by the poison that has infected her. Julio and Tenoch do forget about what matters, do lose touch with each other, and do not learn the lessons that life has provided for them. Y Tu Mamá También is surprisingly harsh towards the state of Mexico in 2001, and its immediate future. But, there is a lot of depth in the story, and a lot of skill on display in the way that Alfonso and Carlos Cuarón indirectly use the characters to mirror their home country.

There is plenty to like about Y Tu Mamá También. It just so happens that there’s plenty to dislike about the film as well. Y Tu Mamá También fails to reach the level of greatness that the film has been ascribed by so many others. There are far better films in the filmography of Alfonso Cuarón to seek out and make time for. Y Tu Mamá También is not a terrible film, nor is it a great film. It is a decent film that explores interesting characters in a not always fascinating way. The hype train came to town and it left Y Tu Mamá También, and its faults stop it from being all it’s been cracked up to be.

Rating:

***

Cheers,
Bill

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