Director Alfonso Cuarón, prior to last year, had largely operated under the Hollywood radar. The director had helmed "The Little Princess" and a remake of "Great Expectations", two films that offered remarkably beautiful imagery and fine performances, but never quite connected with audiences. This year, Cuaron stepped away from Hollywood and made the Spanish-language "Y Tu Mama Tambien", a film that made a splash with its sexual content and was carried by strong buzz and word-of-mouth from audiences whose demographics extended far beyond the late-teen/20's audience that distributor IFC films likely expected.
The picture revolves around Julio (Gael García Bernal) and Tenoch (Diego Luna), who have just graduated from high school. The two are funny and foul-mouthed, with their main concerns being either getting high or getting with their girlfriends. When said girlfriends leave for Europe for the Summer, the boys find that half of their plans are now missing. Lacking much ambition and quickly gaining much in the way of boredom, the two spy Luisa (Maribel Verdú), a beautiful older woman who is getting married to Tenoch's cousin. The two try and talk to her and invite her to go off with them, but find that she's got other plans. When she finds that her husband has not been faithful, she suddently accepts the duo's offer to head off on a road trip.
This results in talk...and talk...and talk between the three. Talk about sex, about love, about life. But it's not too long before the two start to compete for the love of Luisa, turning the former friends against one another before they start to realize some lessons about life from Luisa herself. Interestingly enough - and a factor that plays a big part - are the people and places that the three see during their drive. While the majority of the film is about the three characters, there's a real sense of place, culture and changing climate as the film presents various areas of Mexico. Occasional narration also tells more about the situation in the country and other aspects. While as much narration as there is here is usually frowned upon, it worked for the movie. I especially liked how the audio for the film turned silent while the narration came on. One saddening moment has the narrator discussing how a fisherman the three meet will eventually be put out of business by the combination of the tourism board and a soon-to-be-built hotel, forcing him to leave his little slice of paradise.
The performances and dialogue also make for considerably more than just another teen sex comedy. The two leads portrayed both the raunchy side of the characters and the the more serious second-half scenes very well. Verdú's performance, as the older woman who begins to teach the two about life and themelves, is also outstanding. And, while the dialogue is raunchy and filled with curse words, the lines are often very funny and a bit more realistic than the one-liners that fill most movies of this genre.
While "Y Tu Mama Tambien" didn't seem to start off with a whole lot of potential, the film gradually reveals unexpected layers to the story and characters. Cuaron also offers a nice mix of joyful moments, heart and occasional drama. It's shot beautifully by ace cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who manages to both bring us into the middle of the conversations while skillfully portraying the fascinating landscape. The film's insights are occasionally not particularly insightful, but "Y Tu Mama Tambien" is clearly a stronger piece than the kind of teen films that have been cranked out by Hollywood in the past few years. It starts off as silly and raunchy, but quickly starts becoming something more substancial, unpredictable, fresh and entertaining.
Note: This DVD edition offers the Unrated version of the film, which runs 105 minutes. Given that the film was UR in theaters, I'm guessing this is the theatrical version. There is also an R-rated DVD release, as well.
VIDEO: MGM presents "Y Tu Mama Tambien" in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The cinematography is by Emmanuel Lubezki, the gifted artist who turned director Cuaron's "Great Expectations" and Alfonso Arau's "Walk in the Clouds" into rich, dazzling visual masterpieces. His outstanding work can also be seen in Tim Burton's "Sleepy Hollow" and Michael Mann's "Ali". His work here is a bit more subdued, but he still offers marvelous, interesting compositions and a lot of nice hand-held camera work. MGM's presentation of the material isn't quite perfect, but it's good enough to do the film's imagery justice. Sharpness and detail were generally very good, if not too exceptional.
Flaws appeared, but not all of the usual ones were present. No edge enhancement appeared, nor did any pixelation. However, some occasional marks and a speck or two were seen on the print used, as was some slight grain. These flaws were noticable, but they were never a source of much irritation or bother.
The film's color palette is considerably more subdued than that of Cuaron's prior pictures. Still, colors remain natural looking and occasionally, richer colors pop in. Colors appeared crisp and nicely saturated, never appearing muddy or smeared. Black level also remained solid, while flesh tones appeared accurate. A very nice transfer.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish w/English subtitles) soundtrack is a fairly natural portrayal of the situations. While the surrounds aren't used much aside from a couple of sound effects, there is still a fine amount of ambience present. The occasional songs on the soundtrack also sounded good, with a decent amount of low bass. Although I don't speak Spanish, dialogue generally sounded natural and clear.
MENUS: MGM offers an animated main menu that uses clips from the film.
Commentary: This is a commentary from actors Gael García Bernal, Diego Luna and Andres Almeida. The commentary sounds entertaining, but given the fact that it's in Spanish with no English subtitles, I couldn't understand it. This situation has happened before (see Columbia/Tristar's "Crimson Rivers" or TVA's Special Edition of "Brotherhood of the Wolf") and while I've heard various things about the cost of subtitling these tracks (Buena Vista's "Amelie" offered both an English and French commentary), it still would have been nice if MGM put forth the effort here.
Rounding out the DVD are a few additional features: we get "Me La Debes", a short film by Carlos Cuaron; a couple of deleted scenes; the film's trailer (which is very well-done; credit IFC Films for a nicely-handled marketing campaign) and TV spot, as well as a "making of". The 21-minute "making of" is a really nice little piece, as it doesn't simply restate the story and provide basic interviews. Instead, it's one of those featurettes where a camera follows around the cast/crew as they film a few scenes from the movie.
Final Thoughts: "Y Tu Mama Tambien" starts off as another film in a crowded genre, but it quickly develops into a very memorable cinematic journey, complete with great acting, beautiful cinematography and a great script. Although this is where I'd usually say the film's graphic content may make it one of those "not for everyone" pictures, I've talked to several people who I'd think would be easily offended by such content, but enjoyed the movie highly. MGM's DVD makes a mistake in not subtitling the commentary, but the other supplements are nice and the presentation of the film itself is quite good. Highly recommended.
The Film *** 1/2