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It is good of Pedro Almodovar to make it clear, right from the beginning, that we shouldn’t expect much in the way of seriousness during his most recent film, I’m So Excited! We definitely shouldn’t expect the kind of disturbing and darkly comic film he has won plaudits for in the past decade. If you’re hoping to relive the creepy thrill of The Skin I Live In or the rich tragicomedy of Volver, you’ll have to adjust your expectations – and sharpish. Instead, Almodovar takes us back to the 1980s and to the colourful, wonderfully kitsch, irreverence of early films like Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Bright, jangling graphics adorn the opening credits, and provide us with the first clue that Almodovar is here to have to fun. We just have to cross our fingers and hope we will, too.
Peninsula Flight 2459 is in trouble. The chocks – no, me neither – weren’t removed before take-off (blame a high-vis-jacket-sporting Antonio Banderas, who was distracted by a baggage-truck-driving Penelope Cruz), and the landing gear has failed. Instead of flying to Mexico as intended, the plane is forced to circle Toledo, desperately waiting for a landing strip to become available. The economy-class passengers have been delivered a drug that renders them unconscious for the entire flight, so it’s left to the first-class passengers, three gay male stewards and the two pilots to fear for their lives, drink themselves silly, join the mile-high club and generally ignore every aircraft-safety rule in the book.
Meanwhile, back on the ground, Spain is also in trouble, only this time it’s not fiction. Government fraud, a mortgage crisis, swindling bankers and the worst unemployment rate in modern history make for pretty grim reading in the on-board newspapers. The metaphor is obvious, but no less important for being so: the powerful few have chosen to live it up in merry abandon rather than tackle the fast-approaching disaster; their passengers, meanwhile, sleep unknowingly, with no say in their own fates. Almodovar, an outspoken critic of Spain’s right-wing government, has declared this his “most political film” yet, and beneath the gaudy, alcohol-drenched exterior is a satirical attack on embezzling banks, the royal family and corrupt politicians.
Which all makes I’m So Excited! sound much cleverer than it actually is. In reality, the satire lacks bite, and as neat as the metaphor is, it never develops to its full potential. Of course, none of this would matter if the comedy were as funny as the zany trailer promises, or if the plot didn’t feel as thin as it does, or even if the characters were half as nuanced as Almodovar’s usual cast. As it is, though, I’m So Excited! is a mildly amusing but ultimately flimsy screwball comedy.
The problem is, nothing really happens here. Yes, there’s high jinks and more double entendres than you can actually entendre; yes, the characters bond and chat and generally get things off their chest (pun intended); and, yes, the story comes to a coherent conclusion and everybody had some fun along the way. But the plot is so basic that at times it feels as if you’re watching a ninety-minute-long music video. Bizarrely, too, only one of the character’s stories is developed outside the plane – the others are not granted these coveted on-ground shots. In a film that is nearly exclusively set on board a plane, a sub-plot needs to be very special to warrant those extra on-ground moments. These moments may be sumptuously shot and full of rich colour, but they add very little to the film.
Noticeable, too, is the lack of female characters in a film by a director known for his strong portrayal of women. Why must the stewardesses slumber in economy class for the entire flight, giving the three stewards and two pilots centre stage? And of the three female characters in first class, one is a society dominatrix, one a virgin and the other is . . . asleep. It is not just the women who are half-drawn versions of clumsy stereotypes; the rest of the cast barely function outside their categories: camp stewards, mysterious Mexican, swindling banker, womanizing actor, party-mad newly wed.
Nonetheless, Almodovar fans will still find plenty to like here. His recurring themes of sexual identity, transgression, family life and desire all feature, even if they are not developed much beyond easy laughs, and the hedonistic, farcical style is infectiously charming – you can’t help but laugh at the ridiculously camp rendition of “I’m So Excited” by the Pointer Sisters. Bright, over-the-top and outrageous, this is entertainment at its silliest, and it’s certainly fun enough.
But that’s all I’m So Excited! can be. The sparse plot, stock characters and underexploited satire clip the wings of this light-hearted comedy and prevent it from ever really taking off.
Bella Whittington reads and reviews a bit of everything, but is particularly interested in literary fiction, translations and short stories. After living in Spain for a year, she now works as an assistant editor for Transworld Publishers in London. She has also contributed to Thresholds, the University of Chichester's international short story forum, and the Harker.