I'm So Excited!

Almodovar flies high

Thursday, August 1, 2013

I can’t remember when, if ever, Pedro Almodovar has had as much flamboyant fun as he does in the high-flying comedy I’m So Excited!

The sex and death, musically infused airline disaster farce is staged at 30,000 feet. Much of the story unfolds in the plane’s crowded cockpit—just one of the many entendres the Spanish writer-director doubles to take an imperiled Mexico City flight to heights of lunacy.

The film is so off-the-wall, so raw, so risque, so gay, it may come as a shock even to Almodovar fans used to his boundary-pushing ways. It is why Excited! will likely divide audiences into love-it or hate-it camps, as any good/bad campy film should. Even the relationship intrigues—one of the filmmaker’s consistent strengths—are played with such a fanciful hand you’ll be hard pressed to find a deeper meaning.

Best not even try. Better to settle in, fasten your seat belt and get ready for a bumpy ride.

Though the movie can be great silly fun, be prepared for everything to lean toward the “too too.” Its retro visual style, too retro; the costumes, too tight; the language, too crude; the drinks, too frequent, too spiked; the sex, too exhaustive. Even the bad lighting is a bit too bad. And the script is too loosely constructed.

No matter. The skycaps’ Broadway-styled lip sync of the Pointer Sisters’ late-disco classic that gives the film its name is thrillingly awful and totally awesome. Almodovar was brilliant to put that trio in charge of the drinks and entertainment. It is tempting to jump into the aisles and join them.

Stylistically, the extremes make for a film that is not as beautiful as Almodovar’s have been in recent years. But his choices do not seem random.

The movie begins on terra firma, baggage being loaded by a fetching ground crew of the filmmaker’s favorites—Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz making cameos. Some dizziness proves a distraction, which leads to the plane taking off with its landing gear impaired.

In short order, the plane’s captain, Alex (Antonio de la Torre), and his co-pilot, Benito (Hugo Silva), are trying to burn fuel by flying in circles—another metaphor not so lightly dropped—while air traffic controllers look for an airport that can handle an emergency landing.

The entertaining cabin crew is led by head steward Joserra (Javier Cámara), who cannot tell a lie and is having an affair with the plane’s married-with-children captain, so much for discretion. Fajas (Carlos Areces) is a gossip who spends a lot of time praying about other people’s sins and tossing his hair. Ulloa (Raul Arevalo) seems to believe sex is the answer for any difficulty, or spare moment, one might encounter in life. That theory is certainly put to the test—I think everyone on board is in the throes of some sort of sexual crisis.

The passengers are a varied bunch. The most significant is Bruna, a rural psychic who can see death, so not the seatmate you want on a doomed flight. Made wonderfully dense by Lola Duenas, Bruna is also hoping to lose her virginity in case this is her last chance.

Over the course of the film, the remaining business-class passengers will find they are not so much strangers as simply unaware of their connections. Almodovar had knotted them together long before they boarded, but he takes his time sharing their secrets.

One of the film’s running gags—and as poignant as things are ever allowed to get, which is not very—is the series of phone calls home once word of the mechanical failure spreads. For some reason, the only phone working is on an intercom that can’t be turned off—so the exchanges become ripe for public consumption and comment.

Though a crash could come at any point, I’m So Excited! is a lark—nothing more. Still, it is nice to see the filmmaker loosen up. The recent years have been such dark ones.

Almodovar’s last film, 2011’s The Skin I Live In, was a Frankenstein-esque morality tale of a modern-day plastic surgeon. Broken Embraces, in 2009, took on the frustration and angst of a film director robbed of sight. The return of the spirit of a meddling mother did little to lighten the drama of 2006’s Volver. Even the humor of 2002’s Talk to Her, which won Almodovar an original screenplay Oscar, was tempered by its story of comas, communication and loss.

It would probably take reaching back to 1983, to the drug-running gay nuns and other sacrileges of Dark Habits, to find any parallels to the venerable Spanish director’s new movie. Like Habits, I’m So Excited! will not stand as one of Almodovar’s defining works. But for some completely frivolous, naughty nonsense, it may be just the ticket.

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