Also read June Thomas' Interrogation of Pedro Almodóvar.
I’m So Excited, Pedro Almodóvar’s frothy follow-up to his dark, masterful melodrama The Skin I Live In (2011), is decidedly minor Almodóvar, a sassy disaster-movie spoof that might as well be titled Gays on a Plane. With its sometimes-poky pacing and untranslatable double entendres, this wouldn’t be the movie to win over an Almodóvar virgin—if you want to show a newbie what this magnificent writer-director is capable of, show that person Talk to Her (2002) or All About My Mother (1999) or, in a more overtly comic vein, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988). Nevertheless, I’m So Excited (in Spanish, the title is Los amantes pasajeros, meaning both “the fleeting lovers” and “the passenger lovers”) looks fabulous, talks dirty, and sometimes makes you laugh, which is really all you can ask of a fleeting lover.
Like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, this is an erotic roundelay in which magic potions (here, not flower juice but tequila and cocktails spiked with mescaline) serve as both aphrodisiac and matchmaker. By film’s end, everyone—gay, straight, or bi—has found his or her match (or at least some action at 30,000 feet). We begin with a glimpse of a happy couple—played in teasingly short surprise cameos by two Almodóvar regulars—working as baggage handlers at the Madrid airport. When they’re distracted by a mishap on the runway, the landing gear of a jet is damaged, leading to the crisis that will drive the film’s story: While a runway is being found for a dangerous emergency landing, the plane must fly in circles while the increasingly anxious passengers try to settle their affairs and make peace with their loved ones on the ground (via an in-flight phone that, thanks to a narratively convenient broken speaker, broadcasts conversations to the entire cabin). A soap-opera star (Guillermo Toledo) gets in touch with his suicidal girlfriend (Paz Vega); a crooked investment banker (José Luis Torrijo) has an emotional phone conversation with his long-estranged adult daughter; and a paranoid dominatrix (Cecilia Roth) tries to determine which of her enemies has put out a hit on her. (Meanwhile, all of economy class, for reasons that are never quite clear, has been dosed by the crew with sleep-inducing muscle relaxants.)
Many of the funniest scenes take place in the cockpit, where the bisexual pilot (Antonio de la Torre) and the straight (or is he?) co-pilot (Hugo Silva) bicker with the flamboyantly queeny head steward, Joserra (the dependably superb Javier Cámara), over how best to handle their plane full of nervous passengers. Joserra (who declares himself physically incapable of lying after a long-ago trauma involving a corporate cover-up) can’t stop blurting out the upsetting truth between shots of tequila. By way of distracting the passengers from their fear, Joserra’s fellow über-gay stewards, Ulloa (Raúl Arévalo) and Fajas (Carlos Areces) perform an engagingly campy lip-sync of the Pointer Sisters hit that gives the film its English title. Eventually the magical properties of that hallucinogen-laced cocktail—along with the dire predictions of a ditzy passenger (Lola Dueñas) who declares herself both a psychic and a virgin—get the whole plane worked up into a death-fearing, sex-craving lather, until … let’s just say the Mile High Club gets enough new members to open a whole new chapter.
Almodóvar has said that the endless circling of this fictional flight over the center of Spain is meant in part as a commentary on the country’s current economic crisis, and if you pay close attention, the repeated references to bank swindles and government double-crosses (not to mentioned those narcotized lower classes) bear that reading out. But I’m So Excited works principally as a visually lavish celebration of the liberating power of hedonism, in the vein of the director’s early works. The sex jokes and performances are as broad as a barn, but it’s a stylishly painted one: the design, right down to the crisp red-and-white trim on the stewards’ spiffy sky-blue uniforms, is delicious, and the lush orchestral score by longtime Almodóvar collaborator Alberto Iglesias slyly references both Hitchcock thrillers and classic disaster films. At times this slightly manic movie strains too hard to reassure us that the lyrics of that Pointer Sisters song hold true, that we’re all in this together and having a wonderful time. But as this death-obsessed farce barreled along toward its sexy crash-landing climax, I’m So Excited let me lose control, and I think I liked it.