Alfonso Cuarón’s sexy and provocative road movie, Y Tu Mamá También marked a homecoming as well as a breakthrough for Cuarón in 2001. After making his directorial debut a decade earlier in his native Mexico, Cuarón was drawn to Hollywood, where he earned strong reviews for A Little Princess and a modern-day reworking of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. Then, however, Cuarón decided to return to Mexico to make a more personal film and he wowed the cinematic world with this coming-of-age drama. Y Tu Mamá También broke box office records in Mexico when it opened in the summer of 2001. It went on to win the Best Screenplay award at the Venice Film Festival and was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay the following year. Cuarón wrote the film with his brother Carlos Cuarón.
Cuarón cast two up-and-coming young actors, Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna, as teenage friends from different social classes. The working class Julio (Bernal) and the upper class Tenoch (Luna) are friends and rivals. They both become infatuated with an older woman (Spanish actress Maribel Verdú) and invite her to join them on a road trip to a spectacular, secluded beach. She accepts and they embark on an adventure that turns out to be a funny, sexy and revelatory experience for all three of them. Much of the film was improvised by the actors, with Cuarón’s encouragement.
In addition to the luscious cinematography and the sexual candor (it was released unrated in the U.S.), the film features narration in the style of some of the European films that inspired Cuarón, particularly Truffaut’s Jules and Jim, another landmark movie about a ménage à trois. Reviews were almost universally glowing. In Newsweek David Ansen wrote, “The movie has an emotional kick that lingers like a primal memory.” Entertainment Weekly’s Lisa Schwarzbaum called the movie “sad, funny, sexy, and altogether marvelous.” The New York Times’ Elvis Mitchell concurred, describing Y Tu Mamá También as “fast, funny, unafraid of sexuality and finally devastating.”
The film’s success propelled Cuarón to the front ranks of contemporary directors. He went on to helm the best Harry Potter movie (The Prisoner of Azkaban), the dystopian Children of Men, and earned an Oscar for his direction of the sci-fi adventure Gravity. When he returned to Mexico to make the autobiographical Roma, he earned a second Oscar as Best Director.