Almodóvar on autopilot
The freewheeling director’s brash comedy has something to say about contemporary Spain but not enough real laughs to keep it aloft, writes Donald Clarke
I’M SO EXCITED/LOS AMANTES PASAJEROS
Directed by Pedro Almodóvar. Starring Antonio de la Torre Javier Cámara, Pepa Charro, Lola Dueñas, Cecilia Roth, Coté Solar, Penélope Cruz, Antonio Banderas 16 cert, QFT, Belfast; Cineworld/IFI/ Light House/Screen, Dublin, 90 min
The Skin I Live In, the last film from Pedro Almodóvar, looked to be backing away from the grown-up nuance that has characterised so much of his work over the past decade. That sleek, gripping body horror made no effort to impress the neighbours with any suburban respectability. Still, it had an icy seriousness to it that placed it firmly in art-house territory.
I’m So Excited is something else altogether. Almodóvar has confirmed that he is seeking to rekindle the naughty hedonistic energy of his very earliest films. Decades before he became a suitable subject for PhD theses, he was wrapping camp in brightly coloured paper and plastering the gayest bows on the resulting package.
It begins with charming cameos from Pedro’s old chums, Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas, as romantically involved ground staff at a Spanish airport. Distracted by some happy news, they neglect their work and trigger a catastrophe that results in the crippling of an aircraft undercarriage.
The plane is stranded in the atmosphere and –with security tightened due to a UN conference on the ground – no airport is able to offer runway space for an emergency landing. Surely they can’t be serious? They aren’t (and stop calling me Shirley). From brash start to breezy end,
I’m So Excited exploits the situation for farce, both high and low. The flight attendants, each as camp as the next, set out to distract from the crisis with an orgy of intoxication and aberration. The economy passengers are all sedated into comas. Jugs of champagne cocktail are passed around business class. Yes, the attendants really do stage an interpretation of I’m So Excited by The Pointer Sisters.
On the surface, the film appears to be plumbing new heights (or depths) of bold triviality. If ITV presented Christopher Biggins with a similar sitcom in the 1970s, he might very well have rejected the project as too aggressively camp and inconsequential.
Squint at the screen, however, and it becomes clear that Almodóvar has a serious purpose in mind. The film works as a rigorous metaphor for the current malaise in Spanish society. Riddled with debt, paralysed by political indecision, the country circles endlessly in a class of stratospheric limbo. The sedated economy-class passengers stand in for the excluded proletariat. The squabbling, self-absorbed business travellers represent various aspects of the ruling elite.
Cecilia Roth, an Almodóvar regular, plays a self-obsessed dominatrix who, while plying her trade, has picked up reams of damaging information on the great and good. A newly married couple are travelling with a lower-intestine’s worth of illegal narcotics. The most suave and well-dressed of the bunch turns out to be a hitman.
Almodóvar may be seeking to bring us back to the 1980s. But the combination of cold metaphor and hot farce – played almost entirely in one set – also suggests the livelier schools of British agit-prop theatre from a decade earlier. The comedy is broad, the metaphors explicit. The trick with such beasts is to lure you in with the easy-to-swallow coating and then, as you suck off the sugar, invite you to ponder the more complex flavours within.
It’s hard to fault Almodóvar’s political motivations: his film takes swipes at all the right targets; the atmosphere of panic is well maintained. Unfortunately, I’m so
Excited doesn’t quite work well enough as a straight-up comedy. The director draws high-powered, theatrical performances from his energetic cast. The production design has a nice plasticky quality to it. But the jokes fly so frantically that the viewer never really gets the chance to absorb the structure (if there is any). For all the high intentions, I’m So
Excited comes across as minor Almodóvar. There are, of course, far worse things than that.