The plane in Spain – ★★★
The latest film from Pedro Almodóvar (his 20th feature in a long and storied career) sees him putting aside the more serious and tense work of the last fifteen years in favour of a return to the farcical comedies which made him famous in the 1980s.
Almodóvar used to be a director who revelled in shocking people with camp, entertaining pieces of work which piled the humour on top of sexually-charged situations. While almost of his work has room for great one-liners (subtitles are brilliant at judging real zingers), it’s been a quarter century since his last carefree comedy, the critically-acclaimed Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.
In I’m So Excited, we are on a doomed flight from Madrid to Mexico City, things have gone wrong because there is a “chuck” caught around the wheelbase, making a normal landing impossible. Who is to blame for such negligence? Two airport ground staff played by two of the director’s stalwarts in cameos – Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas. Up in the air we drop in as the regular crew are nodding off after being drugged by the cabin crew. This just leaves us dealing with seven business class passengers, three cabin crew and two pilots. Drugging most of the plane and effectively writing them out of the story is a weird narrative device but it kind of works and means everyone we see on screen forms part of the story, unlike most airplane-set stories which just use rakes of extras to sit in their seats and look bored.The seven first-class passengers can all be seen as representing different elements of Spain’s wealthier classes and the people who should be held accountable (at least in our Pedro’s eyes) for the country’s current economic turmoil. The social microcosm is a little heavy-handed and the film would have been more effective if he’d just stuck to the laughs. Because boy oh boy do the laughs work well. Almodóvar is gay and is most famous for creating strong, powerful female roles. I’m not sure he’s ever put together a troop of gay men to form the centrepiece of a film like this before. 2004’s Bad Education can of course be read as a kind of a grand homosexual film noir, but with I’m So Excited, he’s gone for the lighter side of gay life with three out cabin crew facing off against an increasingly bi-curious set of pilots resulting in some truly hilarious scenes. It should be noted that there’s a lot of sex, drugs and boozing – all of which is good fun and proves that the 63-year-old director isn’t losing his edge.
At the centre of the film are the aforementioned cabin crew played by Rául Arévalo, Carlos Areces and Javier Cámara. Their musical number which gives the film its English-language title is great and one of the highlights of the film. Best of the passengers is probably star of All About My Mother Cecilia Roth as a highly-struck moaner who reveals herself as a celebrity dominatrix who has stories about almost all of the major players in Spanish politics. Some of the other character subplots fail miserably, none more so than a very weird setup involving a melodramatic phone-call from a man to his girlfriend about his suicidal wife.
When I’m So Excited is funny, it’s great, but for the most part it seems to get bogged down by what it’s trying to say about Spain’s social and economic failings. It’s farcically fun enough to be recommended but just isn’t up to the usually high Pedro benchmark.
Spain / Directed By: Pedro Almodóvar / Written By: Pedro Almodóvar / Starring: Javier Cámara, Cecilia Roth, Lola Dueñas, Raúl Arévalo, Antonio Banderas, Penélope Cruz / 90min / Comedy / Release: 3 May 2013 (Ireland, UK), 28 June 2013 (USA, Canada)