After the kinky, creepy quirk of 2011’s mod-goth masterpiece The Skin I Live In, Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar returns to his campy, soap-operatic roots with the palate-cleansing amuse-bouche I’m So Excited. This microcosmic ensemble comedy would sit on the shelf comfortably alongside early Almodóvar offerings such as Labyrinth of Passion, Dark Habits and What Have I Done to Deserve This? but isn’t likely to rate among the writer-director’s all-time best.
Thanks to a mishap on the runway (initiated by Almodóvar regulars Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz, in all-too-brief cameos), a 747 en route from Madrid to Mexico City is in serious trouble. The landing gear is jammed, and the plane can’t find an empty airport for an emergency landing. As a result everybody’s just going around in circles (literally as well as figuratively). At first only the pilot (Antonio de la Torre, The Last Circus) and copilot (Spanish TV actor Hugo Silva) know about the danger. But thanks to a gossipy (and very gay) flight crew (Javier Cámara, Raúl Arévalo, Carlos Areces), the passengers are soon whipped into a panic. Well. Not all of the passengers, exactly. The cattle back in economy class have been drugged into a stupor. Only the well-to-do passengers in business class are awake enough to ponder their impending doom.
Among these passengers are a virginal psychic (Lola Dueñas, Volver), a corrupt businessman (José Luis Torrijo, Pan’s Labyrinth), a well-aged model-turned-madam (Cecilia Roth, All About My Mother), a “security expert” (José María Yazpik, The Burning Plain), a pair of hungover newlyweds (Miguel Ángel Silvestre and Laya Martí) and an over-the-hill soap star (Guillermo Toledo, The Perfect Crime). Most of these actors have worked Almodóvar films before and know how to handle this sort of high-tone camp. Cámara, Arévalo and Areces in particular are working hard for the money.
Prospective viewers are advised to get in the Almodóvar mood early. This is one of the master’s silliest candy-colored romps, packed to the emergency exits with sex, drugs and bawdy humor. The story is little more than a string of raunchy jokes, episodic happenings and random melodramatic interactions. The passengers get scared and drunk and spill all their darkest secrets. The flight attendants slip mescaline into the cabin’s drinks and instigate an orgy. Everybody exorcises their inner demons and basically hopes not to die. For a great many viewers, this one will seem a lot like one big dirty joke without a punchline. Which it kind of is. But Almodóvar is clearly just having fun here, gathering up a bunch of friends and throwing together a hell-with-it-all romp. (The title, for example, comes from a drag-inspired cabaret act that the flight crew busts out halfway though the film.) Hardcore, longtime Almodóvar fans are probably the best equipped to deal with this level of lunacy. If, for example, you thought 1990’s Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (about a gentle but mentally unbalanced man who kidnaps a porn star so she’ll become is his wife) was a hoot, you’ll get some giggles out of I’m So Excited!
But the queer (in way more ways than one) tone and the claustrophobic atmosphere are just as likely to leave a lot of audience members feeling left out of the joke. The film’s tableau rarely strays from the front cabin of the airplane. As a result this seems even more stagebound than the average Almodóvar movie. It is, in many ways, classic Almodóvar. But the director feels like he’s grown beyond such trifles of late, delivering thought-provoking comedy-dramas like 1999’s All About My Mother and stylish genre-busters like 2006’s Volver. Worst of all is the idea that Almodóvar may have lost his formerly deft touch with outrageous farce. I’m So Excited! invokes (but hardly matches and never surpasses) the giddy, anything-goes fun of 1988’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. This madcap, dirty-minded black comedy manages to get off the ground, but rarely does it soar.
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