PEDRO Almodóvar’s latest begins with a disclaimer that what we’re about to see is a fantasy and bears no relation to reality.
I’m So Excited! (15)
Directed By: Pedro Almodóvar
Starring: Javier Cámara, Paz Vega, Cecilia Roth, José Luis Torrijo
It’s a nifty joke, not least because the first scene promptly features Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas as squabbling airport baggage handlers. If you’re not on board with the sight of two of the most beautiful people in the world dressed in overalls (but, crucially, still looking like two of the most beautiful people in the world), then it’s probably best you disembark now, Almodóvar seems to be saying, because this literal in-flight movie (it takes place almost entirely within the confines of a commercial passenger jet) is not going to diminish in silliness over the next 90 minutes.
That’s good news for any Almodóvar fans who have been wondering if he was ever going to make a full return to the histrionic, high-camp melodramas he seemed to abandon in the wake of Talk to Her’s Oscar-winning success more than a decade ago. Though he’s made some fine and some not-so-fine films in the years since, with the sole exception of 2011’s strange, macabre and rather magnificent The Skin I Live In, it has frequently seemed as if he’s been on a mission to dial down his more outré sensibilities of late for fear of losing the newfound respectability that his increasing visibility in awards season had conferred upon him.
I’m So Excited!, though, is Almodóvar going hell-for-leather again, shaking things up in riotous fashion, much like he did after the fall of Franco left the way clear for him to burst onto the international scene with transgressive, provocative comedies such as Dark Habits, Matador and Women on the Verge of A Nervous Breakdown. Indeed it’s perhaps no surprise that his return to this kind of unapologetic craziness has coincided with his native Spain’s current economic woes. What better metaphor for the tensions inherent in a country plummeting towards chaos than a malfunctioning aeroplane circling a bankrupt airport while a few privileged first class passengers fight over what to do, and the majority of economy class citizens doze in a drug-induced slumber administered to them without their permission by an out-of-control cabin crew?
Okay, so maybe it’s a little clunky as a metaphor, but this is Almodóvar having fun, taking gleeful potshots at certain troubling aspects of modern Spanish society, but burying them in a frenzy of fabulously tasteless behaviour.
The latter mostly comes courtesy of a trio of gay flight attendants – played by Raúl Arévalo, Carlos Areces and Talk to Her star Javier Cámara – who collectively respond to the plane’s landing gear crisis (caused by Cruz and Banderas’s shenanigans in the opening scene) by slamming tequilas, popping pills and delivering badly mimed, wonkily choreographed renditions of the titular hit by the Pointer Sisters.
Those flying the plane aren’t much more responsible: instead of concentrating on the job at hand, both the pilot (Antonio de la Torre) and co-pilot (Hugo Silva) are using the possibility of imminent death to confront and question their sexual proclivities. Amid the passengers, meanwhile, a clairvoyant (Lola Dueñas) becomes obsessed with losing her virginity on the flight, while an infamous madam (Cecilia Roth) and a mysterious stranger (José Maria Yazpik) circle one another cautiously as they try to work out each other’s agendas.
It’s broad, bawdy stuff, and more than a little retro too, to the point where the luggage isn’t the only thing that feels Carry On … The titular exclamation point that’s been added to the English language version seems like an attempt to reference Airplane! – something further reinforced by Almodóvar’s willingness to dispense with plot in order to advance the action with some pleasing if distracting non sequiturs. A subplot in which Paz Vega plays a suicidal artist saved by a phone call from the plane, for instance, is one of those things that directors like Almodóvar (or Woody Allen or David Lynch) sometimes throw into their movies without necessarily finding a way to make it feel integral to what’s going on. This particular strand feels like a nice idea that has perhaps been in the back of Almodóvar’s mind for a while and, in lieu of finding a proper home for it, he has let it settle here. Well, why not? I’m So Excited! may reflect its title in the energetically chaotic way it has been constructed and executed, but at a time when it would be easy for Almodóvar to drift towards dreary arthouse respectability, there’s something endearing and subversive about the way he indulges his baser instincts here with wild caricatures, crude jokes and kitsch karaoke.