Those ever-present themes of friendship are pertinent to just about every film that sets characters off on the great road of exploration. It is unavoidable. Having that in mind, director Alfonso Cuarón utilises it to his advantage. It is not like he has much choice in Y Tu Mamá También. But the coming-of-age tale is never pushed beyond, and while Cuarón is seemingly trying his best to shed that weight, he is too fast to accept it as his only choice. There is no other alternative, but you would hope acclaimed directors such as him would manage to shake up the narrative. Instead, the amicable display showcases simple characters going through the motions of drink, sex and drugs, and how it causes more problems than it is worth.
Do we as an audience need to be reminded of this? No, not really. But there is always room for such stories if they are told with interest and conviction. Cuarón has the latter, but not the former. He is comfortable in his role as director, which does display some confident choices and artistic material. Diego Luna (Tenoch Iturbide) and (Julio Zapata) Gael García Bernal are fine friends indeed, no wonder they take a road trip together. Alongside Luisa Cortés (Maribel Verdú), they travel literally and metaphorically through their minds and the landscape of Italy. Would their sexual and emotional awakening have enlightened them if it weren’t for Luisa? Probably not. She is characterised well, but there is no escaping the idea that she is merely there to propagate a coming-of-age tale obsessed with sex. It needs more than that to work effectively. At least the film looks rather good.
These technical merits are fine, but I have never been convinced by Cuarón’s inclusion of emotion. They do not feel genuine, neither to his characters nor the reality of their situation. Praise for what the characters stand for, rather than their performances, is rather apt. But how far can a concept go when the character is weighing them down? Not far enough. The major issue with the coming-of-age concept is that every moment must have a heavy impact on the emotional and mental state of the protagonist. Every scene a painting is Cuarón’s gambit. It doesn’t pay off. His film looks well enough but they are never offering us that perfect blend of creative characters and engaged artistry.
Moments and experiences with our friends may feel like the creation and welding of unbreakable bonds, but Y Tu Mamá También explains to us, all too assuredly, that they can destroy as well as they can defend. That is the line the film wishes to toe, and it does so well enough. A trip that friends would die to take takes a sour turn. It’s a shame neither the trip nor the characters are all that interesting. What saves the piece though is that undeniable credit we must give to Cuarón, who makes a good showing of basic ideas. Teenagers look for escapism, those out there who are ill do too, and what bonds them together is the basic idea of relief from their lives and the grief within it. That much can be taken from Y Tu Mamá También, but just how much of it is unique to this early 2000s feature?