“You’ve got a new life ahead of you. Wake up!” are the final words spoken in Pedro Almodóvar’s directorial debut Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del montón (a.k.a. “Pepi, Luci, Bom and Other Girls on the Heap”), and it’s an optimistic sentiment that speaks to the revolving series of identities and personas the film’s characters try on in search of happiness. The vibrant, outrageous outfits worn by Pepi (Carmen Maura), Bom (Olvida Gara), and the cross-dressers and transsexuals who populate Almodóvar’s colorful, flamboyant, sexually accepting Madrid are external manifestations of their search for personal expression, freedom, and – in certain cases – liberation. Almodóvar, who in his early years was a provocateur along the lines of John Waters, personally inserts himself into a dick-measuring scene, and pads out his narrative-lite film with vignettes featuring Pepi being raped by a cop and the married, uptight, S&M-loving Luci (Eva Siva) falling in lesbian love with radical punk rocker Bom after the latter urinates on her face at the kitchen table. The film’s cavalier, non-judgmental attitude toward all forms of sexual expression is unique in that it posits its cast of weirdoes not as outsiders but, rather, as part of mainstream Spanish society, and Carmen Maura’s exuberant Pepi – who becomes an advertising executive with campaigns for diaper-like women’s underwear – is the vehicle through which Almodóvar gently mocks the pop culture he cherishes and draws inspiration from. Still, for all its grungy, anarchic charm, Pepi, Luci, Bom is annoyingly amateurish, and its depiction of women as slutty, profane, and constantly degraded by men seems to go beyond the bounds of decency (Luci’s sadomasochistic relationship with her hubby is particularly questionable). The director does make sure his female protagonists are in control of their destiny – their ultimate triumphs are in accord with the film’s theme about evolution through regeneration – and I also have the nagging feeling that the ladies’ brazenness has something to do with women empowering themselves by rejecting their traditionally submissive roles in Spanish society (a role that Luci eventually decides to embrace). This seminal effort only barely hints at the director’s future talents as a melodramatist and satirist, but die-hard Almodóvar fans may well enjoy its John Waters-esque crudity.