Spanish cause celebre Pedro Almodovar's ensemble farce I'm So Excited! concerns an aircraft that seems bound for catastrophe -- one of the safety technicians on the ground (Antonio Banderas, in a cameo) accidentally forgot to remove the chocks, and the airplane "ingested" them -- paralyzing the landing gear and inadvertently putting all of the crew and passengers at death's door. Aside from the prologue with one-scene walk-ons by Banderas and Penelope Cruz, and a couple of sequences set on the ground, we spend all of our time onboard the Mexico-bound plane as Almodovar crisscrosses the substories of various eccentrics, including a married bisexual pilot (Antonio de la Torre) carrying on a covert affair with one of the male attendants, a photogenic twentysomething couple (Miguel Angel Silvestre and Laya Marti) on their honeymoon, a film actress-turned-high-end prostitute and dominatrix (Cecilia Roth), a middle-aged virginal woman (Lola Dueñas) eager for her first taste of sex, and most prominently, three wildly effeminate gay stewards (Carlos Areces, Raul Arevalo, and Javier Camara) who try to forestall panic by drugging everyone in first class with mescaline-spiked Valencia cocktails.
The film celebrates uninhibited carnality within the context of the same form that launched Almodovar's career in the 1980s -- earthy, bawdy comedies such as What Have I Done to Deserve This and Pepi, Luci, Bom y Otras Chicas del Monton. With that in mind, about half of the material delivers. Almodovar is at his best here when he throws in laughs from way out of left field -- as in the opening with Banderas and Cruz, who become momentarily distracted from their jobs and injure a fellow safety worker in the process. Also enjoyable is a deliciously conceived and shot preflight sequence in which the stewards demonstrate the appropriate use of emergency devices to passengers. The blocking of those safety scenes strikes one as so subtle and yet so absurd -- with humor generated by the wackiness of the crewmen's body movements and facial expressions -- that we're beside ourselves with laughter. Equally droll is a terrific throwaway in mid-film when the attendants lapse into a lip-synched musical performance set to a cover of the Pointer Sisters' "I'm So Excited"; Almodovar enlists an array of weird and clever camera angles and actor blockings -- reminiscent of Bob Fosse musicals -- to turn the sequence into a kitschy gay cabaret act, and the results are nothing short of inspired. Unfortunately, much of the overtly raunchy humor in the film falls flat. Many of the gags and double entendres revolve around penises and blow jobs (who is giving head to whom, etc.) -- and not even jokes about said topics, but simply the mention of them, in about every imaginable context. As presented here, this isn't particularly funny; it feels tired, repetitive, and stale. It takes arduous work to make this sort of lover-swapping bedroom farce play with anything close to freshness, and Almodovar misses the mark by a long shot. More often than not, we aren't laughing or chuckling; we're wincing.
The picture does, however, succeed on the level of basic dramatic wizardry. This is Almodovar's 19th feature, and at this point he has a level of narrative derring-do that feels rather jarring. Not only does he manage to establish and sustain multiple substories and glide back and forth between them sans effort, but he's such a gifted raconteur that he's able to suspend disbelief even with ridiculous story twists that virtually no other director could pull off. Consider, for example, one sequence set outside of the airplane: It depicts a contrivance involving the cell phone of a womanizing passenger’s unstable lover (Paz Vega), which finds its way into the hands of another of his ex-girlfriends (Blanca Suarez) -- by plummeting into her bag during the first woman’s suicide bid. To put it kindly, this is nutty storytelling -- so nutty that many Bollywood films have more solid interior logic -- but somehow it does play, and watching the picture you have to admire Almodovar's gutsiness, even if you're aghast at what he's getting away with or trying to get away with. Embracing this movie means accepting its melodramatic lunacies and simply drifting with its current.
In the final analysis, I'm So Excited! is not great Almodovar -- it falls well below the bar of the director's classics -- but it does have its inherent pleasures and will probably be most appreciated by loyal fans of the filmmaker who feel eager to see him return to the sort of movies that initially put him on the map.
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