Luis Buñuel, the king of Spanish surrealist cinema, once made a movie about people trapped in an unlocked room from which, mysteriously, they could not escape. Fast-forward 50 years, and Buñuel’s countryman, Pedro Almodóvar, has delivered his own odd take on social imprisonment, and although it’s a welcome return to the type of clever farce that brought him worldwide fame with Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown in 1988, I’m So Excited! is, well, no cause for excitement.
This latest project, which Almodóvar also wrote, is his first to rely heavily on comedy since All About My Mother in 1999. Though he begins the film, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, by professing that it “bears no relation to reality,” the director seems concerned with plot only if it
posits social and political pith – and some laughs.
The plot he chooses is a plane in danger of crashing, filled with frightened passengers contemplating their lives. We’re introduced to a unique assortment of the famous and ordinary, the undersexed and oversexed, the rational and hysterical, the straight and the gay – and the very gay. We meet a psychic (Lola Dueñas), a hitman (José María Yazpik) and a famous madam (Cecilia Roth), who apparently holds the whoring secrets of the entire nation. We even get a hysterical trio of male flight attendants who would make Liberace seem macho, plus clever but too-brief cameos by Almodóvar regulars Antonio Banderas and Penélope Cruz. In fact, there are so many crazy characters aboard Almodóvar’s airplane that we wonder whether the landing gear has been sabotaged on purpose to rid the world of these wackos.
Taken at face value, I’m So Excited! is just what Almodóvar has said it is: a light comedy, with some drama added to build interest. But because many moments – especially an off-the-plane plot featuring the wife and mistress of one of the passengers – don’t work, we strive to find metaphorical meaning. For that, we turn to the original Spanish title, Los Amantes Pasajeros, which translates to “the passenger lovers” or, better still, “the fleeting lovers,” a vastly better name than the English one, which is taken from an odd, campy musical interlude in which the gay stewards sing the Pointer Sisters.
It’s the original title that allows us to see the film not as just a titillating trifle or a raunchy comedy, but as a witty take on the incompetence of government and a metaphor for Spain’s stock-market crash. Viewed in that light, it’s no accident that all the passengers in economy class are given sleeping pills and are unaware of impending doom, or that the pilots can’t find a proper place to stage their emergency landing because the country’s airports are in shambles.
Regardless of interpretation, Almodóvar’s movie is a strange mix of mediums that, much like Spain’s economy, can’t quite hold itself together. Considering the director’s legendary status, I’m So Excited!, with its uninspired storytelling, is a missed opportunity for memorable absurdity.
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