Almodóvar turns airborne disaster into frothy comedy in ‘I’m So Excited’
Who else but Pedro Almodóvar could take a standard disaster movie premise and turn it into a frothy, candy-colored comedy? But the merry Mexican maestro carries it off with delicious, subversive aplomb in his new film, I’m So Excited, which dares to ask the question: How would you choose to live your last hour of life? In the Almodóvar universe, the answer involves cocktails, plenty of sex, and a disco beat.
There has always been a fine line between comedy and tragedy, farce and melodrama in Almodóvar’s films, where reckless human passions intersect in unexpected, often ironic ways. But while Excited has one of his more dire set-ups—a commercial airliner bound from Spain to Mexico City experiences equipment failure as the flight crew searches for a place to make an emergency landing—this is a return to pure comedy for the filmmaker. Sure, sex, drugs, murder, and betrayal figure in the entwining stories that make up the plot, but the mood is light, even boisterous throughout.
Penínsular Airlines Flight 2549 is only an hour or so into its journey when its pilot, Alex Acero (Antonio de la Torre) discovers a malfunction in the landing gear. The entire cabin in coach, including the stewardesses, have already been sedated to sleep by order of the Chief Steward, Jossera (Javier Cámara), who finds it makes his job easier and allows him more time for tippling behind the scenes. But the half dozen passengers in First Class are alert to the impending drama as the plane circles the airport at Toledo, waiting for a clear runway.
Jossera and his cabin crew serve as both a bawdy Greek chorus of observers and the eye of the storm around which the other stories play out. Jossera is in a longstanding affair with married pilot, Alex; unable to lie, Jossera is eager to share the details with anyone who asks. Ulloa (Raúl Arévalo), along with most of the stewardesses, has his eye on handsome co-pilot Benito (Hugo Silva), who identifies as straight but is starting to feel experimental. Sweet, chubby Fajas (Carlos Areces) springs open his laptop-sized, pop-up altar to pray in times of crisis.
As this zany trio mixes vats of mescaline-laced mimosas and kibitzes, the other passengers’ stories unfold. Sunny, wide-eyed psychic, Bruna (Lola Dueñas), en route to locate some Spaniards lost in the Mexican drug wars, has had a happy vision that she will lose her virginity on this flight. Mr. Mas (Jose Luis Torrijo) is a banker on the lam after his financial skullduggery has crashed the economy. Ex-porn star, Norma (longtime Almodóvar diva Cecilia Roth), idolized by all three bedazzled stewards, claims to possess incriminating erotic videos of the top 600 most influential men in Spanish politics; for this reason, she suspects the plane’s troubles are part of a murder plot against her.
Facing what may be their last hour of life, these characters react in ways anyone might (and everyone does in an Almodóvar film): they call their loved ones to make amends (Almodóvar gets a lot of comic mileage out of a public phone in the First Class cabin that broadcasts every private conversation), they find simpatico sex partners, and they all drink like fish.
The dialogue is fast and funny even as the situation deteriorates; Benito is quizzing the exasperated Alex about the relative merits of male or female sex partners even as the plane is coming in for its fateful landing. In the comic centerpiece, the three stewards perform a perfectly choreographed lip-synch routine to The Pointer Sisters tune that gives the film its title—complete with aerial shots a la Busby Berkeley.
Almodóvar selected his cast mostly from his stock company of recurring players, in what must have been a party for all involved. The fabulous Roth makes her seventh appearance with the filmmaker (she was in his very first feature, back in 1980). Cámara, who plays Jossera, starred as the compassionate orderly in Almodóvar’s brilliant Talk To Her. Even Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz pop up in cameos as members of the airport ground crew caught up in their own drama who inadvertently set the whole plot in motion. I’m So Excited may lack the complexity of the best Almodóvar films, but it’s a bracing, ribald cocktail of a movie all the same.
I’M SO EXCITED ★ ★ ★ (out of four)
With Javier Cámara, Raúl Arévalo, Lola Dueñas, and Cecilia Roth. Written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar. A Sony Classics release. Rated R. 90 minutes. In Spanish with English subtitles.