Pedro Almodóvar has become an institution of Spanish cinema, the industry’s only major player internationally and the sort of filmmaker academics pitch to students uncertain of what an auteur is.
The director’s camp and irreverent style that flourished in the post-Franco ’80s grew into his unique brand of melodrama following 1995’s The Flower of My Secret. Almodóvar’s gender-bending genre-bending films, with their energetically dysfunctional characters and colour wheel appearances, are unmistakeably him. But now, tired of being an adult, Almodóvar has taken a step back from his powerful (if flippant) dramas towards the high camp comedy that originally made his name.
I’m So Excited is the Spaniard’s slightest film since 1990’s Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, an audacious sex comedy with only light sprinklings of his very modern kind of humanist drama. Set almost entirely on a transatlantic flight, it is most reminiscent of his ’89 film Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, with its limited locations and unexpected sexual revelations.
In an amusing dual cameo, clumsy airport staff Antonio Banderas and Penélope Cruz let their personal affairs get in the way of their duties (a theme in this movie) resulting in some damage to the landing gear of a plane bound for Mexico. When the problem becomes apparent and the pilots are forced to circle an airport waiting for a chance to make an emergency landing, the three senior stewards, each more flamboyantly gay than the last, take the wise decision to drug everyone in coach to avoid panic and, more importantly, complaints. This leaves the trio with only the sexually repressed pilots and an assortment of oddball business class passengers to deal with. Things rapidly get silly, sexy and silly again.
The three stewards – blabbermouth boss Javier Cámara (of Almodóvar’s Talk to Her), judgemental Rául Arévalo and devout, superstitious Carlos Areces – are three very different breeds of modern gay men; watching them you feel a contemporary American screenwriter could never have written them as separate characters. While they carry much of the weight of the film, they are less the main characters than our eyes on the cabin floor, judging the passengers – although Cámara’s affair with the married captain (Antonio de la Torre) remains an amusing subplot. The focus drifts between the passengers from psychic virgin (adult chastity is a recurring theme for Almodóvar) Bruna (Volver’s Lola Dueñas) to dominatrix to the stars Norma Boss (Cecilia Roth), to shamed businessman and estranged father Más (José Luis Torrijo).
Much of the drama circles around the passenger Ricardo (Guillermo Toledo), a soap actor and womaniser straight out of Women on the Verge. Fearing the end is near as a safe landing becomes ever less likely, he calls his girlfriend in the middle of a suicide attempt, only for her to drop her phone off the bridge she was about to hurl herself. In a moment of whimsical quirk even Wes Anderson couldn’t have got away with, the phone, still connected, lands in the lap of Ricardo’s previous girlfriend Ruth (The Skin I Live In’s Blanca Suárez), leading to a series of confrontations over how men mistreat the women in their lives.
As serious as it all sounds, this remains a daft comedy with some truly excellent laughs. “I am bleeding to death” tweets an antisocial airport staff member after lightly scrapping his arm. The laughs keep coming as the trio of stewards perform a hysterically choreographed rendition of the titular tune to keep the business classers amused, to little avail. “Maybe we chose the wrong song” they opine, more concerned about their karaoke than their imminent deaths. The film, and the plane, run rapidly out of fuel in the third act however, following a misjudged drug-induced sequence in which the passengers and crew release their inhibitions. The central moment of crisis in Almodóvar’s Talk to Her, the rape of an unconscious victim, is here re-enacted as a moment of humour and triumph, a troubling sequence that the film never satisfactorily glosses over. Going back to his comedic roots, Almodóvar seems to have lost north on his moral compass.
But there’s plenty to like here, from the bouncing cartoon luggage of the opening credits to the luminous chalky blue and red palette. Almodóvar’s regular composer Alberto Iglesias’s music adds to the fun with its twangy sounds conjuring the older era of sex comedies this film aspires to. There’s a subplot about banking mismanagement that hints at Spain’s financial pitfalls, but that serves as minor satire in a film that is more concerned with the narrow patch on the Venn diagram where sex and love interlink.
It’s just a bit of fun all round, but the drama fails to land, much like a troubled airplane. Almodóvar can be excused for taking a break from churning out the classics, but for those expecting All About My Mother, you’re boarding the wrong flight.
(originally published at http://www.filmireland.net)