Upon introducing his latest film, “I’m So Excited” at the opening night of the Los Angeles Film Festival, Pedro Almodóvar took care to explain that in Spanish, the title of his film has a double meaning— as he said, “horny.” And yes, the characters aboard his doomed flight are indeed very, very libidinous. Almodóvar also explained that “I’m So Excited” allows him to take a catastrophe and turn it into a party. With that idea in mind, it helps to see the bigger picture Almodóvar is trying to paint with what seems like a silly sex farce on a plane. While there’s drugs and sex and drinking and dancing, for sure, if one looks at “I’m So Excited” as a metaphor for the ills of society today and how we react to it, it becomes a much more poignant and biting satire of the state of our world, and how we as a people decide to react to it.
The film opens our plane being readied for takeoff, and with two delightful cameos from Antonio Banderas as the haphazard runway worker moving the “chocks” (those things that keep the wheels on the landing gear in place on the ground), and Penélope Cruz, a baggage truck driver who creams a luggage handler. It’s chaos on the runway, and this chaos is soon to creep into the plane itself, where the majority of the film takes place, on a flight from Spain to Mexico. Our heroes are a trio of flamboyant business class flight attendants: Joserra (Javier Cámara), Ulloa (Raúl Arévalo), and Fajas (Carlos Areces), who drink and bitch behind their curtain in the service area. There’s plenty of gossipy intrigue within the crew, as Joserra is having an affair with the married (bisexual) pilot Álex (Antonio de la Torre), something his co-pilot, the hunky hetero Benito (Hugo Silva), is curiously interested in. The business class passengers include a virgin psychic who can smell death (Lola Dueñas), a famous and demanding escort/madam (Cecilia Roth), a Mexican “security adviser” (José María Yazpik), a banker embroiled in a financial scandal (José Luis Torrijo), an aging actor (Guillermo Toledo), and a couple of hungover newlyweds (Miguel Ángel Silvestre and Laya Martí). All of the economy class passengers and flight attendants have been drugged with a muscle relaxant are all passed out for the entirety of the flight. We can take this plane as our little microcosm of society, with the business class passengers representing money, violence, sex, power, spirituality, and death (and don’t forget the sleeping masses whose fate lies in thior hands) who are all corralled by a bunch of gay, tequila-shot-pounding flight attendants with a repertoire of musical numbers. Is this heaven?
Amongst all the squabbling and drinking and gossiping, it is revealed that the pilots have been flying in circles because the chocks left on the runway were swallowed up by the landing gear and now they have to make an emergency landing, but there’s no available airport. Pretty soon, all order breaks down in the cabin, as the flight attendants lose control of their passengers, led by the feisty madame Norma. They all decide to use the public phone to make calls home, but the speaker’s broken and every call is heard throughout the cabin. It’s an interesting device Almodovar uses, in order to show their personal stories, and it works as a comedic device too, as Norma tries to get some privacy, despite her assistant repeating everything she says to her over the loudspeaker.
This phone call device gives us our one moment outside of the plane, as actor Ricardo calls his suicidal girlfriend Alba (Paz Vega). She drops the phone off the bridge she’s trying to throw herself off of, and of course, only in Almodóvar, it lands in the bike basket of Ricardo’s old girlfriend Ruth (Blanca Suarez). He implores Ruth to check on Alba, which leads her to Alba’s apartment to pick up his stuff after Alba is carted off to the mental hospital. This section feels a bit random (it gets tied up at the end), but Almodóvar shoots the most amazing close ups of the sublimely beautiful newcomer Suarez so lovingly, that it’s worth it just to be able to gaze upon her lovely face.
Back on the plane, the flight attendants have resorted to performing their routine to “I’m So Excited,” and yes it’s incredible. This is one of few self-reflexive moments, as they seem to be performing more to us, the film’s audience, rather than within the contained world of the cabin. In doing so, Almodóvar allows us to become part of the group, to identify with the passengers who are aboard this crazy gay drunken plane (and what a metaphor for society… sometimes it really does feel like this world is a crazy gay drunken plane flying circles around the sun). Eventually, they decide to offer up a Valencia cocktail punch spiked with mescaline (helpfully smuggled in the ass of the newlywed groom), and that’s when all order and divisions between people break down. Straight, gay, virgins, sleepers— everyone gets a piece (except the banker). Once that visceral, corporeal catharsis happens, there’s finally harmony in the cabin, and the pilots locate an airport to make a landing, where they come to a safe rest in a giant pile of foam. The passengers and crew depart back to their lives, forever changed and affected by what happened (but only the business class passengers, the economy passengers have no idea what went on).
All the performances are an entertaining treat and within the Almodovarian soapy melodramatic wheelhouse, but special attention must be paid to Javier Cámara as the lead flight attendant Joserra, who is easily the star of the show and is equal parts funny and incompetent but not without heart and a huge amount of empathy. Cecilia Roth (the star of Almodóvar’s “All About My Mother”) is also riveting as the sexy, demanding and scheming Norma. She truly embodies movie star charisma, and it’s hard to take your eyes off of her. These two performances are the most nuanced and varied of the bunch and thus, the most compelling.
While “I’m So Excited” feels on the surface like one of Almodóvar’s more minor efforts, and it’s true that it’s lacking in some of the stylistic exuberance and soul of his greater works, it’s interesting to think about this film as what he imagines the world could be. It’s clear that he uses the metaphor of the plane to present us with this democratic, polyamorous gay utopia, a place in the sky where money and power don’t mean a thing, where we all have to get along, have a drink, and be kind to your fellow passenger. [B+]