It’s hard to understand the motivation of whoever was tasked with translating the title of Pedro Almodóvar’s new movie into English. They ended up with “I’m So Excited!”, which certainly conveys the campy joy of the 95-minute airborne bacchanal but is a far cry from the film’s original Spanish title, “Los amantes pasajeros.” Admittedly, it’s a hard one to translate–“The Lovers On-Board” or even “The Lover-Passengers” would be closer yet self-evidently clumsy–but the film’s original title does so much to encapsulate the delicious, shocking, messy piece that Almodóvar has put together. Nevertheless, that unknown translator might have been on to something–this could be a tough film for American audiences to swallow (pun fully intended).
The premise of “I’m So Excited” is deceptively simple: Peninsula Airlines Flight 2549, en route from Madrid to Mexico City, is having some technical difficulties in the form of a stuck landing gear that necessitates an emergency landing. For one reason or another, (a security summit in Madrid, a racing competition in Valencia) there are no empty runways anywhere in the country, stranding the flight’s passengers in a holding pattern above Toledo as the government scrambles for a solution. As they circle endlessly through the sky, the passengers are left in the hands–or perhaps at the mercy–of three gay and very inappropriate flight attendants: Joserra, Fajas and Ulloa.
But Almodóvar, of course, has a very different way of looking at the world, and through his eyes a potentially disastrous situation provides the opportunity for self-examination, rule-breaking and perhaps even redemption. Chief Steward Joserra, we learn, usually has one ‘catharsis’ per flight, but on this particularly journey he has already had two. It’s a fitting portent for what is to come for all the flight’s passengers–or rather, those in business class, since the attendants have drugged everybody in economy to keep them calm and to spare them, you know, the pain of economy class.
“I’m So Excited!” is downright wacky, and it seems to purposely eschew the emotional sophistication of many of Almodóvar’s other works. The characters here are drawn in two-and-a-half dimensions: the naive country psychic, the jaded madame/dominatrix, the gorgeous but idiotic newlyweds, the hit man, the crooked businessman. And then there are the flight attendants, caught in their own emotional three-way and a very crooked love pentagon that involves the bisexual pilot, Alex, and the ‘heterosexual’ co-pilot, Benito.
But these aren’t real people, and “I’m So Excited!” is at its best when it acknowledges that and plays into the camp extravagance of their problems and passions. If there’s any place that this unexpectedly episodic film dips, it’s when it focuses a philandering actor played by Guillermo Toledo, whose disappointing story line takes us back to ground for an unnecessary and overly long detour involving two of his scorned women. (On the plus side, Toledo’s story does give us the opportunity to watch a sweet and nuanced performance from Blanca Suárez and a lovely cameo by Paz Vega.)
At 30,000 feet, though, “I’m So Excited!” shines, particularly when it homes in on the three flight attendants, who drink and bicker their way through the flight, doing whatever they can to keep the passengers under control, including plying them with copious amounts of Valencian Water spiked with mescaline.
This juxtaposition of impeding doom and willful, ecstatic unprofessionalism is thrilling and unsettling. While there are moments where Almodóvar creeps onto potentially dangerous ground–two instances of not-really-consensual sex come to mind–his ability to play sexuality in a fun, shocking and sly way is a pleasure to watch. At one point, Ulloa comes out of the cockpit with evidence of a dalliance with Benito on his chin only to be called out by Fajas, his fellow flight attendant. When Ulloa tries to protest his innocence, Fajas dips his finger in it, glares at Ulloa and tastes it indignantly. It’s insane, and it’s fantastic.
For a Spanish audience, the political metaphor of “I’m So Excited” is no doubt much more resonant than for American viewers: the drugged economy passengers represent Spain itself, kept in the dark as their nation’s economy went into somersaults; the government’s inability to find a runway for the doomed airplane mimics a real-life political response to the recession that has brought little reprieve.
In the face of impending but bureaucratically delayed doom, the wealthy passengers of flight 2549 are faced with an existential crisis–what do they do as the world falls out from under them? Some of them seek to right the wrongs they have wrought, but for the most part, they just party. There’s sex, but even that doesn’t last that long, and what’s left is the simple act of people connecting with one another. Coming from a filmmaker who knows how to explore the dark, twisted recesses of the human psyche, there’s something powerfully life-affirming about Almodóvar’s latest piece.
In a very short cameo at the beginning of “I’m So Excited!”, Antonio Banderas plays a ground crew worker who forgets to take the chocks away from an airplane’s wheel. He’s distracted by a beautiful luggage driver, Penélope Cruz, who’s distracted by him and runs over another airport worker–who’s distracted because he’s texting on his phone. It turns out Antonio and Penélope are finally going to have a baby, and as they run off to celebrate, a plane takes off behind them with one wheel whose landing gear is about to malfunction terribly.
What can you say? That’s humanity for you.
“I’m So Excited” opens the Los Angeles Film Festival on June 13. The film hits theaters June 28, via Sony Pictures Classics.