Wealthy happy-go-lucky Tenoch (Diego Luna) and his lower-class free-spirited buddy Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal from Amores Perros) are a couple of aimless 17-year-old boys who plan to have some fun getting high and getting laid over the summer in Mexico City while their girlfriends are in Europe. When Tenoch's beautiful married Spanish cousin Luisa (Maribel Verdu) shows up for a wedding the bored horny teens make up a story about going on vacation to the Oaxacan coast and invite her to join them in hopes they can seduce her along the way. When she learns her husband has been having an affair she agrees to go with them; happily surprised but with no real destination in mind (except perhaps the bedroom) the boys set off with Luisa on a road to nowhere. They don't expect their amorous plans to happen the other way around--or for some unexpected events and to change their friendship forever.
The three actors give marvelous unabashed completely natural performances that easily carry this film. Extended scenes shot on a handheld camera with no cuts give each the chance to fully inhabit their characters which are as aimless as the cinematography. Like every other teenage boy in the world Julio and Tenoch are obsessed with sex; they shoot off their foul mouths with gleeful abandon fantasize about Salma Hayek while masturbating in the pool and envision themselves more skilled in bed than they really are. This becomes painfully awkwardly obvious when Luisa a decade older and wiser sexually and emotionally easily gets the better of them both. Her issues though are also more adult; trapped in her marriage caring for a sick relative and keeping a sad secret she hasn't told anyone she gets a chance to finally find out what its like to be free of responsibility. In the end what was intended to be a rowdy carefree summer romp full of sex and sin turns into an unpredictable--and sometimes harsh--learning experience for all of them.
In this film as in Great Expectations several years ago director Alfonso Cuaron captures light and color in a way that is almost classically artistic. Somehow he manages to create beauty out of his characters' most distasteful actions--it's like looking at a Rembrandt painting of 17th-century Europeans smoking pot and having group sex. Cuaron's Mexico is a striking blend of beautiful landscapes contrasted with the dirtiness and poverty of Mexico City contrasted further with the middle- and upper-class lifestyle of the teens and their families. The film is entirely in Spanish but don't let that scare you away--the subtitles are more than entertaining enough to hold your interest. One interesting touch is the third-person narrative which gives some thoughtful insight into the lives of each character without getting in the way of their performances or revealing too much.