“It Only Hurts When I Think”, reads the boy’s shirt. Two boys they are, and they don’t think too much, they’re too busy cracking each other up and having fun. Tenoch (Diego Luna) is the smallish, smart-ass teenage son of a rich Mexican business man, Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal) is poorer but taller and better looking, which doesn’t really matter anyway, as they hardly bother to think about such things. They stick to the essentials: getting drunk, getting stoned, playing football (not the brutish American type), racing each other in the pool and, of course, having sex, or in the absence of willing girls, talking about it and jerking off! As the film begins, each of the young men is having goodbye sex with his girlfriend, whom are both leaving to spend the summer in Italy. They won’t have time to miss them, as they soon befriend Luisa (Maribel Verdu), a gorgeous older Spanish woman who happens to be the wife of Tenoch’s cousin. She finds them kind of silly, but after her husband cheats on her, she thinks “what the hell” and decides to accompany the boys on a ride in Julio’s beat-down car to Boca del Cielo, a heavenly beach…

Here’s a movie which takes on a few of the most familiar motifs of contemporary Hollywood cinema, such as the love triangle, the road movie, the teen sex comedy and the coming of age story, and manages to always feel sincere and refreshing anyway. I never got the impression filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón was going for showy effect or straining to set up a gag or trying to shove a message down the audience’s throat. Ultimately, this is sort of a message picture, one of those Oprah-ready movies about making the most of life, appreciating beauty, carpe diem and all that feel-better pap. Yet this overall theme only comes through clearly in the last five minutes, and even then it’s mentioned in a matter-of-fact way, not as a contrived life affirming message. There’s no big Oscar-friendly, overwhelmingly teary actor moment, no swooning music cue. All you get is the two guys sitting over coffee and chatting, and then Frank Zappa plays over the end credits and you just sit there, unexpectedly moved.

In the meantime, we just casually tag along with the trio through the Mexican countryside, with little or no plot getting in the way. It’s almost like a documentary (down to the sometimes distracting hand-held camerawork), where life happens without following screenplay conventions. It’s sometimes really funny, sometimes more serious… Whichever it is, it’s all very enjoyable, in most part because it all springs out of the characters and their interaction. Maribel Verdu is convincing as the woman caught between two horny young dudes, we can believe how she decides to play a little with them. But the movie truly revolves around the friendship between Julio and Tenoch, who are portrayed wonderfully by Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna.

We really get the impression that these two have spent their lives together and that they have this incredible complicity. They’re close, very close, with apparently nothing off-limits between the two. One will leave the bathroom door open and keep talking to the other while peeing, they tell each other everything (or so they think), they even masturbate next to each other! They’ll get even closer on their vacation, as they lust for the same woman and eventually get to share her… Maybe too close, so much that all they can do is bounce apart. Yet while it lasts, we get to share this friendship through the camera’s voyeuristic, unblinking eye. While we’re spared genital close-ups (this isn’t porno!), the movie does feature a lot of full frontal nudity and sex. I liked how natural these scenes felt. For once, sexuality isn’t used for gross-out humour or highly stylised like most Hollywood love scenes, and it’s not exploitative and disgusting as in the movies of rambling feminist Catherine Breillat (“À Ma Soeur”) or dirty old man Larry Clark (“Bully”) either. This is not love, not rape, just real, lively (if quick!) sex.

“Y tu mamá también” (“And Your Mother Too”) is a real gem, full with the beauty of Mexico and its people, one of these movies where I want to jump in and live in these places with these characters. There’s only one cinematic “gimmick” when once in a while, the sounds fades out and an omniscient narrator gives some insights into the past and the future of places and characters. It’s odd at first, but it grows on you and adds to the overall feel of the movie, giving you a larger understanding of Mexican society and its less glowing aspects. I don’t think the sobering running commentary takes away from how sexy and fun a film this is, in fact it complements it. It makes it so you not only leave the theatre satisfied from having a few laughs, but also thoughtful about the evasive nature of life. “It Only Hurts When You Think”