Cross check and doors to manual, Almodóvar’s I’m So Excited smuggles camp humour onboard a plane heading into disaster. Only the sky’s the limit.
The Mile High Club by Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve now achieved cruising altitude. And with even a preflight warning topping Pedro Almodóvar’s latest film, I’m So Excited is a mixture of fiction and fantasy which bears no relation to reality. It’s time to check in all hope of a sensible plot or a sensitive exploration getting under the skin of Almodóvar’s women. Instead, Los Amantes Pasajeros is a raunchy sex comedy, reminiscent of Sixties farces like Boeing-Boeing, of mile-high orgies and mescaline truth-telling in the face of death. And with its pastiche of a safety demonstration inflected through arched eyebrows, pouty lips and vogue wrists, it’s just plane camp.
Jessica and León are ground staff at Madrid airport, but when baggage attendant Jessica (Penelope Cruz) nearly runs over a colleague, and her lover León (Antonio Banderas) discovers she’s pregnant, he forgets to remove the chocks, causing a landing gear failure and requiring the Península plane headed towards Mexico to seek an airport for emergency landing. Onboard, economy class is fast asleep, drugged with muscle relaxants while in first, the crew drink tequila shots and entertain the high-maintenance passengers, unable to use telephones or the in-flight entertainment system. There’s a party bride and groom, clairvoyant virgin Bruna, lying womanising actor Ricardo, Norma, a high-class madame of Spain’s top 600 businessmen, Señor Más the fleeing director general of a failed bank, and hit man Infante. And heading towards almost certain death, as they tie up their lives’ loose ends it’s a time for carnal desires and basic truths beyond the secrets and lies.
A who’s who of the Almodóvar troupe, including Cecilia Roth, Javier Camara, Lola Dueñas and cameos from Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas, I’m So Excited is a revue-style extravaganza of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. Well, there’s the three flight attendants, Joserra, Ulloa and Fajas lip-synching to the Pointer Sisters’ ’80s hit. Still, it’s full-on Almodóvar camp – on a par with Gael Garcia Bernal’s drag performance in Bad Education, but received with equanimity and disinterest from the passengers in first class – a gay man’s vision of good, not-so-clean, camp fun digested by a straight audience. And with its well-oiled lip-dub, Almodóvar’s I’m So Excited polemicises entertainment for entertainment’s sake, the Almodóvar oeuvre that may have fallen on deaf ears or into the void. And so, rather than worry about the wavering tastes of the audience, Almodóvar retreats to the enjoyable theatrics of filmmaking.
All the world’s a stage, and even Península’s first class cabin, with its red galley curtains and passenger dress circle is life’s theatre in miniatures. The cabin crew douse themselves liberally in tequila, smoke and pray to Hindu gods in a briefcase. Their fluid relations with pilots Alex and Benito create a no-holds-barred sexual arena ranging from calling each other ‘chica’ and ‘maricon’ to converting happily married but curious men. All inhibitions are overcome after a trolley service of mescaline-spiked cocktail valenciana; psychic Bruna makes the most of a sleeping passenger with a hard-on to lose her virginity (narrowly avoiding allegations of rape with a brief point of view flicker of hair-tossing ecstasy) while the groom drugs the bride for sleep-sex and Norma can’t resist the moustachioed hitman any longer.
But the barriers Almodóvar really wants to break down in his doomed flight of fancy are the secrets and lies of love – adultery, corruption and political intrigue. With only one onboard telephone stuck on loudspeaker and a plane heading to almost certain death, we are privy to everything. And in an extended sequence set in Madrid – the only story that escapes the confines of the aeroplane – we see Ricardo’s unhappy lover carted off to a lunatic asylum while he overcomes his philandering ways with a renewed devotion to his latest fling Ruth. The message, beyond all the untruths, there is trust and love. And by the end, as Alex’s wife is revealed to be accepting of her husband’s homosexual affair, Bruna disembarks together with economy trick Nasser and who knows what conversion takes place under the foam between Benito and Ulloa, harmony is achieved, all-consuming and celestial.
With its plane heading towards catastrophe and its onboard final phone calls, em>I’m So Excited recalls 9/11 only far removed and reconfigured as comedy. There’s a frisson of modern significance too in its fleeing bank boss and its sex scandal hawking Madame, but nuanced and sophisticated it ain’t. Almodóvar is aiming for scandalised outrage, but there’s a certain nostalgic and low-fi charm to his has-been comedy, overflowing with bawdy quip and camp innuendo. Like it or not I’m So Excited is light-hearted entertainment, which all too briefly hints at deeper meanings. It’s frothy and airy, so better belt up and enjoy the flight. Chocks away!
I’m So Excited is released on 3rd May 2013 in the UK