As viewers, we have a basic set of expectations for road films; throughout the surprisingly far-reaching genre, ranging from the likes of “Almost Famous” to “The Darjeeling Limited” to “Away We Go” and even the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, the same pattern consistently emerges. The characters endure trials of various sorts, encounter new and colorful people and places and experience growth in some way. They eventually emerge from their respective voyages transformed into, if not new, at least different (and almost always better) people.
Watching them, we are compelled to experience something beyond ourselves and to gain something from it, growing with our protagonists. What sets Alfonso Cuarón’s road film, “Y Tú Mamá También,” apart from other road films, however, is that instead of granting us what we want, a quaint dream of self-discovery, it drags us away from that, instead immersing us in the harsh reality of our own shared human weaknesses.
The film’s bickering pair of teen protagonists, Tenoch and Julio, embody that reality. The friends, unrepentantly juvenile and eternally oblivious to their own flaws, laboriously construct a personal bubble for themselves made of drinking, drug use and desperate animalistic sexual encounters. Embarking on a road trip to the mythical beach Heaven’s Mouth, accompanied by the enchanting but believable Luisa, a disillusioned but hopeful dental hygienist (who also happens to be married to Tenoch’s cousin), the two do everything they can to showcase themselves to the viewer as the spoiled, complacent, overgrown children they are. Prone to squabbles about trifles ranging from their own shallow relationships to who is more proficient sexually, the oblivious, inwardly focused pair force us to examine our own lives before criticizing their utter disregard for personal growth and progress.
In contrast to Tenoch and Julio, everything about Luisa reflects her desperation for action. She wants more than anything to go somewhere, to do something, to feel, to grow and most importantly, to move. Movement, particularly that of the car, parallels her desire to explore. Though Luisa embraces this, speaking to the desire within any self-aware person to do the same things in the hope of gaining experience and growing from the world around them, the boys remain pathetically static throughout their odyssey, and select the stops for their trip accordingly. Luisa, in the hopes of making an adventure for herself, is always the one to spur the trip onward. She hushes the boys’ arguing, demands to keep driving and eagerly explores the coast with a humanizingly playful, but clearly directed vigor and enthusiasm. She prefers to leave the boys to their petty, self-absorbed quarrels and misdirection, finding for herself a kind of temporary bliss in human experience.
Watching the two boys’ pitiful developmental stasis helps to glorify Luisa’s efforts beautifully. And though the film promises nothing, highlighting the temporal nature of Luisa’s happiness, it does praise her efforts and assure us that the potential to grow from our experiences is always reason enough to pursue them. As such, the sum of Luisa’s fears is to stop progressing, the manifestation of a natural and universally relatable ennui parallels ours with a kind of gritty, dusty sort of magnificence; just as Luisa jumps at the chance to go on a road trip — to go somewhere, to do something, to feel, even at the smallest sort of adventure — so should all people. Those active verbs, otherwise mere potential for action, are what should motivate us. Though the film addresses the viewer’s doubts regarding the practical gains of such explorations (self- and otherwise), by the film’s end, with Luisa’s tearful, doubtful admission of her own happiness, there’s really no denying that the thrill of the hunt is vastly underrated.