When the landing gear fails on a Peninsula Airlines flight from Madrid to Mexico City, the passengers and crew contemplate the end by reassessing their complicated lives, greeting potential oblivion with rigorous honesty and sexual abandon.
If any auteur can be relied upon to produce a masterpiece every time, it’s Pedro Almodóvar. But following his thrilling melodrama The Skin I Live In, the Spanish writer-director has potentially come a cropper with this return to the kind of Rabelaisian comedy he last attempted a quarter-century ago, with Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown.
Back then, Almodóvar’s transgressive take on Spanish culture seemed daring, outré and deliciously subversive, but social attitudes have now caught up, giving I’m So Excited! an old-fashioned, almost Carry On film sensibility which may please die-hard fans, but prove harder to swallow for newer converts — especially those drawn to the promise of the filmmaker’s erstwhile collaborators Antonio Banderas and Penélope Cruz, who share perhaps a minute of screen time as a pair of baggage handlers who inadvertently cause the aircraft’s undercarriage trouble.
Critics in Almodóvar’s native Spain have been quick to seize upon the metaphorical aspects of the film, with the Peninsular Airlines plane as a microcosm of the country and its present, precarious financial predicament. Yet even here, the film is only partly successful, as the scope of the story is confined to the flight deck and first-class sections — the whole of economy class (and, curiously, the female flight attendants) having been conveniently drugged.
Those who miss the metaphor, or find it heavy-handed, may still take pleasure in some of the film’s lighter-than-air moments, including some frank sexuality and character interplay, and a brilliantly choreographed, literally show-stopping sequence in which three male flight attendants (Javier Cámara, Raúl Arévalo and Carlos Areces) lip-synch to the Pointer Sisters’ hit which gives the film its English-language title. There’s also a darker, but no less enjoyable subplot, involving Paz Vega as a troubled artist saved from suicide by a phone call from the plane. Whether all this adds up to more, or less, than a sum of its parts will likely be a matter of taste.
Whether or not the metaphorical aspects excite you, an unshakeable tolerance for high camp and lowbrow humour may be required to fully appreciate Almodóvars broad, bawdy comedy even for fans of his early, funny films.