If your experience of Pedro Almodóvar is limited to his most recent features – 2009’s noir melodrama Broken Embraces and 2011’s superb thriller The Skin I Live In (5/5 from this reviewer) – then his new film I’m So Excited! may take you a little by surprise. He may have traded in more serious fare these past few years, but Almodóvar made his name on exuberant comedies. It is this territory he has returned to for this sizzling and silly comedy, a disposable disaster farce for our precarious times.
I’m So Excited! concerns the colourful journey of Peninsula Flight 2549 as it heads from Spain to Mexico. Soon into the flight it becomes clear that all is not as it should be. A majority of the passengers have been sedated by the cabin crew in an effort to minimise hysteria.
Why hysteria? Well, Flight 2549 is experiencing some technical difficulties. It could be a bumpy ride.
All of which might prepare you for either the kind of overwrought air-disaster hokum that Airplane! so successfully riffed on, or an Airplane! clone in its own right, this being a comedy and all. The truth is, however, that Almodóvar’s movie is rather more laid back. Whilst some of the exploits here are certainly zany, everything is approached with a casual, good-natured flavour akin to an impromptu cocktail party. The staff aren’t drinking because they’re panicking, they’re drinking because, hell, its social.
Flight 2549’s male cabin crew all land on the spectrum of the camp to the really-very-camp. If you have a problem with that then, well, tough. Enjoy your oh-so-serious self elsewhere. Because what quickly becomes apparent is that these characters (much like Almodóvar’s film overall) are warm and welcoming. As hosts they do just fine. I’m So Excited!‘s cockpit is a very friendly place to visit indeed. Likewise we’re introduced to a handful of lively passengers travelling in business class, ranging from a medium looking to lose her virginity to a newly wed groom whose bride partakes in some eyebrow-raising activities whilst sleeping. Throw in a dominatrix who blackmails powerful men and an uptight banker fleeing some nasty economic fallout and you’re primed for an eventful trip through the clouds.
It’s difficult to write substantively about a film which, a few nods to economic crisis aside, pointedly refuses to be in any way substantive. Almodóvar has expressed that I’m So Excited! marks a return to comedy because he wanted to pull the audience out of the dreary world that any glimpse at current events will remind you of. As such this is a film designed to be as light as air. A bit silly, a bit sexy. It’s a bar of chocolate when you really shouldn’t. “Every day, once a day, give yourself a present” Dale Cooper told Sheriff Truman in Twin Peaks. I’m So Excited! is such a present. It isn’t necessary. Not in the slightest. But really, that’s the point.
So as a puff piece, how much is there to enjoy here? Well, the answer to that is… enough. I’m So Excited! is never going to sit alongside Airplane! for gags, but then it isn’t really trying to. It is funny, but doesn’t fight to be funny all of the time. Almodóvar’s trademark melodrama even recurs in a sequence which unexpectedly draws us back to the ground. But even here the mood is light and farcical (melocomedy maybe?). Almodóvar keeps things buoyant. Just when things are in danger of falling off into a slump, he plays a trump card connected with the Pointer Sisters’ song of the title, whilst later on a mescalin-spiked punch spreads a voracious sexual appetite throughout the plane. The mood is that of a risque party. Warm and flirtatious.
This mood is helped no end by the director’s already well-established love for a rich palette of colours. The uniforms and decor of Flight 2549 positively pop, whilst the few sequences away from the plane are as sumptuous as you’d expect.
I’m So Excited! so completely skirts the idea of real crisis or risk that, come the end, it makes no attempt to instill last-minute tension. You know how this is going to play out. You want death-defying landings? Go watch Flight or something. The finale might betray the movie’s obviously tight budget, but if you feel cheated you probably missed the point. In a world coming apart at the seams, here’s some simple distraction. As weighty as candyfloss – and just as likely to make you feel like you’ve had a touch too much sugar – I’m So Excited! succeeds at passing 90 minutes pleasantly, but achieves little else.
Should a director of Almodóvar’s clout and presence hold loftier ambitions? Perhaps. But is it really so bad to let the autopilot take control for a while? Write your complaints on a scrap of paper and get everyone you know to sign it. Almodóvar will be having a far better time sipping mojitos in the galley.