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

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - REVIEWS -

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.

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