I’m Gonna Explode (Voy a explotar)

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Juan Carlos Polanco/Property of Canana/Film Society of Lincoln Center
Gerardo Naranjo / Mexico 2008

Gerardo Naranjo injects every frame of I’m Gonna Explode (Voy a explotar) with what seems like a vividly accurate recollection of the adrenaline-inducing, hormone-raging, adventure-seeking, instinctively rebellious nature of adolescence. The film follows privileged teen Roman (Juan Pablo di Santiago) and middle-class teen Maru (Maria Deschamps) as they enact a playful, prolonged escape from the entrapments of parents and high school. The film chronicles the flight for freedom every adolescent fantasizes about, displaying the drive for compulsive rebellion as something common to teens of any culture or language.

Roman is one of those familiar disenchanted adolescents whose character echoes the timeless attitudes and philosophies of Holden Caulfield and Harold from Harold and Maude. He regularly plans out murder-suicide spectacles in his head but uses his staged attempts and fantasies more as a means to annoy his cold-hearted politician father (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) rather than actually attempting to bring an end to his life. He teams up with fellow outsider Maru to stage an “escape” that involves little more than hiding out on the roof of Roman’s house, laughing at the oblivious adults as they orchestrate cat-and-mouse missing persons pranks that fall somewhere between funny and cruel. Their journey becomes slightly more serious, however, as they venture away from the house towards Mexico City. They crash a Quinceañera, run away from the police, and throughout treat their escape far more seriously than any of the bumbling adults do.

Tobias Datum’s handheld camerawork maintains a seriousness of style, and Naranjo (who also wrote the film) creates a consistently inconsistent tone that jumps freely between dark comedy and wandering road movie, never allowing the film to devolve into the territory of cutesiness. Every moment of Roman and Maru’s journey feels real and genuine. Hollywood needs to take a lesson from Naranjo’s uncompromising frankness in his depiction of teen life, especially the way he daringly and explicitly exhibits Roman and Maru’s awkward sexual discovery. In this respect, the film thankfully follows the unpretentious, straightforward model for a journey of young self-discovery (both personal and sexual) established by Alfonso Cuaron’s Y tu mamá también (2001) (the connection is revealing when taking into account that Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna executive-produced this film).

Unfortunately, I’m Gonna Explode falls apart in its third act, when the tone changes all too drastically from serious playfulness to straight up melodrama, and Naranjo makes some challenging choices regarding his characters’ fates that will certainly alienate many viewers. It’s 2/3 of a great teen rebellion movie.

Deschamps’ nuanced performance as the fiercely independent, mature-beyond-her-years Maru thankfully keeps the film from being reduced to a far simpler, more juvenile story following the impetuous, naive Roman dragging his his girlfriend around as he makes impetuous, naive decisions. Maru provides the narrative’s much-needed source of sanity and reason, and Deschamps brings a subtle, intelligent force to the character.

The choices of music (ranging from Mahler to Interpol) and attire that accompany Roman and Maru’s journey feel inventively cool without being forced– fashionable without an annoying self-awareness. I’m Gonna Explode’s tone and style also invoke a combination of the atmospheres of hip alienation previously embodied in the aforementioned Harold and Maude as well as Rushmore, Bonnie and Clyde, and Godard’s Pierrot le fou. Yet I’m Gonna Explode’s themes seem like they would play better to bored suburban hipster teens than the metropolitan art house crowd. Here’s to hoping they don’t mind subtitles and will discover this engaging addition to the disaffected youth genre.

© 2008 Landon Palmer. All rights reserved.

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