Almodovar’s cockpit quickie
Pedro Almodóvar’s new movie, which takes place mostly on a Spanish plane with mechanical problems circling and waiting to re-land, is wacky, raunchy, and over-the-top. What else would it be? Well, it might have had the broader significance and warmth of All About My Mother, Talk to Me, or Volver, or the allusiveness and imagination of the master’s previous film, The Skin I Live In. Instead he harkens back to his kinky movies of the Eighties, but with more gloss and cruder, gayer sex talk. This is a movie for the local Spanish audience, diehard fans, and lovers of homosexual camp. It’s a liberation of sorts because it puts the risqué side of the filmmaker’s gay humour out there. Watching I’m So Excited is a lot like attending a drag show in an upscale gay bar. But that’s a tack that may leave general audiences unmoved.
I’m So Excited is a substitute for the Spanish title, Los amantes pasajeros, which puns on the word “pasajeros.” It means both “passenger lovers” and “temporary lovers”: put it together and you get airline quickies, which it’s full of, some glimpsed, some described. Never has fellatio been so much discussed in a major motion picture. This is an orgy of sex, wacky humour, and primary colours.
At least that’s true for the funny stuff involving the male crew members, three flight attendants and two pilots. While the sexuality of the pilots (co-pilot Hugo Silva and captain (Antonio de la Torre) is a matter for lewd debate, the attendants (Javier Camara, Raul Arevalo, Carlos Areces) are openly and effeminately gay. Their playfully nelly version of the ritual emergency instructions we all have to watch before any takeoff is an early highlight. Despite its exaggerated campiness, it may be the subtlest humour in this unsubtle movie. Another highlight comes when the trio precision dance and lipsynch a Pointer Sisters song (source of the English film title). A short prelude featuring Antonio Banderas and Penélope Cruz as ground crew is just a bit of self-referential bait-and-switch.
In this movie Almodóvar is riffing on, as Hollywood Reporter suggests, “the Zucker Brothers and Jim Abrahams’ 1980 disaster flick spoof, Airplane!” but as if “remixed by John Waters on one of his more debauched days.”
If you’re underwhelmed by all this stuff, the movie may peak with the bright-coloured eye candy of Almodóvar’s opening credits. Surely the man knows how to revel in gaudy colours and clear digital images like nobody else. When he gets to the stories of the “pasajeros” he sparsely scatters through Business Class (Economy, full, it turns out, being largely ignored) things begin to be less visual and less funny. There are routinely spun-out tales of a famous woman, a clairvoyant virgin (Lola Dueñas), a honeymoon couple (including drug mule groom Miguel Angel Silvestre), a magnate threatened with scandal (Jose Maria Yazpik), and a gangster, some of whose fates become interwoven, your attention may begin to wander. They’re all thrown together when the threat of a crash landing becomes clear, but it all feels pretty contrived. The lack of any pretence of realism — the interior of the plane, for instance, is quite silent, and the landing is glossed over, leaving only shots of foam on the runway — doesn’t help much. Particularly uninteresting is the complicated story of an actor passenger (Guillermo Toledo) and the two lovers (Paz Vega, Blanca Suarez) he tormented and jilted and left on the ground. All these characters, however brightly coloured, are cardboard figures at best.
Before it’s all over the pilots are revealed to be, guess what? gayer than they pretended to be.
Some of the slapstick, such as the flight attendants’ and pilots extreme drinking and drug use, passed on to the passengers, seems heavy handed, as much of this does, underneath the glitter and the invention and skill the Spanish auteur always has at his commend even in his less inspired moments. This is Almodóvar at his wackiest and gayest. But the film is hovering around in circles, just like the plane. When this director best succeeds, there is the trademark glitz and craziness, yes and the camp too, but there are things that touch your heart. That’s not happening this time.
I’m So Excited opens in the UK 3rd May 2013.
DIRECTOR: PEDRO ALMODÓVAR
STARS: HUGO SILVA, ANTONIO DE LA TORRE, JAVIER CAMARA, RAUL AREVALO, CAROLS ARECES, PAZ VEGA, BLANCA SUAREZ, GUILLERMO TOLEDO, LOLA DUEÑAS, ANTONIO BANDERAS, PENÉLOPE CRUZ
RUNTIME: 90 MIN