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Friday, June 14, 2002

Keith Keener's

Positive Movie Reviews

Y Tu Mama Tambien

It is perhaps fitting that this year of the World Cup when people around the world play "soccer" (or what we in America call "football") foreigners have decided to challenge America on its own turf: movies. Already, the French have contributed the awesome one-two punch of Brotherhood of the Wolf and Amelie, the two greatest presents we have received from them since the Statue of Liberty and Tintin. Now Mexico follows with Y Tu Mama Tambien ("And Your Mother Too"), a magnificent drama-comedy-political-porn extravaganza that put the "coming" in "coming of age" story.

It's sort of weird. A couple of years ago, when I reviewed the brilliant teen comedy Road Trip I pointed out that the only way that it could be improved would be if they had added some narration about current American social conditions and some more explicit sex scenes. Actually, I had planned to argue that, but at the time I made a mistake and thought I was reviewing the remake of Shaft, so maybe this point didn't come through.

But Alfonso Cuaron, the writer-director of Y Tu Mama Tambien, acts as if the message came through loud and clear, even adding some delightful surprises of his own. The movie's two main characters, Julio and Tenoch, are eighteen-year-olds played by famous former child stars Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, sort of like Mexican versions of Corey Haim and Corey Feldman. Tenoch (Haim) is the son of a top politician and Julio (Feldman) is his working-class friend. They spend most of their time talking to each other while masturbating.

All of this changes when they decide to take a long drive down to the beach with a beautiful 28-year-old woman determined to put their masturbating days to an end. By having sex with both of them repeatedly and on a variety of intoxicants, Luisa (Maribel Verdu), this older woman, teaches them a valuable lesson: that even the most degrading 90-second sexual encounter can have consequences.

If this movie is accurate about Mexico, this is a lesson that the entire country needs to learn. This film bravely contains more sex, violence, and drugs than even my wildest fantasies about the country have. Oral sex, discussions of the clitoris, homoerotic subtexts, marijuana, Ecstasy, alcohol, promiscuity, etc. This movie takes it all in, and doesn't flinch. It's like the evil monster characters in Hellraiser had designed a whole country, and then decided to name it. To name it Mexico.

But Cuaron has more on his mind than hard-core sex and drugs. Between the zany antics of Feldman and Haim, and their best sex scenes since the director's edition of The Lost Boys (banned in all countries except Denmark and Japan), Cuaron has also made this a stirring political epic with rich character development. How does he do this?

With the magic of narration. You know, a lot of American movies operate from the assumption that because they are "motion pictures," they should mainly show you things instead of patiently read them to you. Some Like It Hot and Air Force One both come to mind. But Y Tu Mama Tambien knows that you can really make things a lot deeper if a narrator pops up every once in a while to tell you about what is going on in the characters' heads, what they're really like, and also what the rest of Mexico is like, was like, and will be like. Actually, it's not so much "every once in a while" as it is "pretty much all of the time." In fact, the narrator followed me home that night and explained my various actions, like that although I started playing a Duke Nukem 3D online tournament, I normally prefer to play Doom. And you know, he was right!!!

Let me give you an idea of how this added to the film. As you know, I have nothing bad to say about Road Trip, and a lot of good to say. But imagine how much deeper it could have been if a narrator had followed the scene when Tom Green is attacked by the snake by saying, "The snake would later be returned to the pet shop, which was owned by a young woman who had earlier had oral sex with the President of the United States." Think about how much that would have added to the movie. Or if in one of the porno films that Y Tu Mama Tambien usually resembles, a narrator said that "the actress in this scene worries that some day she will be demoted to 'fluffer,' and then again to 'associate fluffer.'" You get the idea. See how that changes things? Instead of feeling only shame and self-hatred after enjoying that scene, you might have a different view of America.

All of this is in the service of the best, most important political message you'll see in any movie this year: that the U.S.A. needs tighter border controls with Mexico. Cuaron has done our nation a great service by showing us the kind of depravity taking place just beyond our border. He is a great American.

In fact, the film's original slogan in Mexico, "El narrador que no se callara," translates, I think, to something like "a movie that will change your life." It certainly changed mine.

Next spring, predict that Y Tu Mama Tambien will win Best Foreign Picture, as will its mother. On a scale of cuatro estrellas o cinco estrellas, I give Y Tu Mama Tambien cinco estrellas!!!

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Earlier positive movie reviews can be found at home.earthlink.net/~dleheny