Monday, July 29, 2013

Sky Highs: I'M SO EXCITED!

Call it Almodóvar’s Airplane! The giddy shot of fizzy lifting drink that is I’m So Excited! takes place almost exclusively on a maybe-doomed airliner. The landing gear is damaged and the jet is stuck in the air endlessly circling, hoping a runway will open up somewhere in Spain so they can attempt a crash landing before running out of fuel. Even the best-case scenario has a high degree of danger. After a decade of mostly great films that to some extent foregrounded the heaviness of their subject matters (Talk to Her, Bad Education, Volver, Broken Embraces) that culminated in 2011’s masterfully upsetting psychological horror film The Skin I Live In, Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar’s latest is light as a feather. I’m so excited, indeed. Sure, he’s still working through many of his pet thematic preoccupations. The film features matters of sexual identity, infidelity, romantic entanglements, parent/child relationships, death sentences, and melodramatic coincidences. But here they’re mixed up in a cocktail of breezy farcical delight. It’s filled with vivacious bawdy energy, ticklingly ribald and utterly unashamed. 

The clueless business class passengers and their progressively more unprofessional flight attendants are the focus of the film’s bright silliness. (The economy class has fallen asleep after the crew decided it’d be better to surreptitiously slip sleeping pills into their drinks than actually tell them the truth about the mechanical difficulties.) In business class, a casual and increasingly open-minded atmosphere leads to candid spilling of secrets, melodramas, and lusty overtures. What else can they do? The in-flight entertainment is broken as well. The increasingly inebriated passengers include a telenovela actor (Guillermo Toldeo), an ex-model turned madam (Cecilia Roth), a banker (José Luis Torrijo), a psychic (Lola Dueña), a mysterious mustachioed Mexican (José María Yazpik), and a pair of newlyweds (Miguel Ángel Silvestre and Laya Marti). They all have secrets to spill and dramas to enact as they slowly learn the truth about their situation. The combination of close quarters, possible disaster, and free flowing alcohol certainly isn’t helping them stay calm.

For their part, the trio of flight attendants (Javier Cámara, Raúl Arévalo, and Carlos Areces) tries to keep this bunch of characters distracted and entertained. They keep the drinks (and stronger stuff) flowing and offer to lip sync a song or two. Some Pointer Sisters, perhaps? When they finally decide to bust a move to the titular pop hit, it’s one of the most exuberant scenes of the year. Mostly, though, they can’t help but be dragged into the gossipy, boozy atmosphere on board. When the madam claims to have provided services to the 600 most influential men in Spain, including the king, an attendant drolly quips that she’s “been royally screwed.” They’re a great comedic trio, sassing and snapping and hashing out private issues in public through fabulous banter and exquisitely passive aggressive behavior. One’s having an affair with the married pilot (Antonio de la Torre), one’s chugging down every drink he can sneak and eying the co-pilot (Hugo Silva), and the third is praying for their safety, while wondering if that groom is as straight as he seems. Everyone’s loosening up and leaving inhibitions behind, leaving plenty of room for light, campy comedy and winking melodramatic complications around every turn as the clashing personalities trapped together have no other option but to bounce off of each other.

Almodóvar’s one of the few filmmakers who can go big, colorful, and over-the-top without even seeming to notice. He’s not even breaking a sweat here, whipping up an overheated concoction that’s a total delight from beginning to end. The film’s wall to wall hilarity with classically snowballing screwball scenarios and candid vulgarity of the most endearing kind. It’s often dirty, either coyly or explicitly, but it’s so sweet it doesn’t rankle. (Even its structure is a great dirty joke; just think about the final images.) No matter how outlandish, there’s not a sour note in the whole film. The cast is a perfectly calibrated mix of chemistries, rattling off the ricochet dialogue and boiling over with emotion and desperation, fear and desire, as the plane continues its endless circling.

It’s the kind of film you can tell the filmmaker had a blast making, so comfortable, spirited, and nonjudgmental. He simply threw a great party of a film, working through his typical weighty themes in the lightest possible comedic way with the help of a great game cast (and a few great cameos, too). It’s an intoxicatingly entertaining experience, rich, airy, and hugely satisfying. The film’s a feel-good machine. The original Spanish title is Los amantes pasajeros, which in some ways speaks more literally to the plot, but in English the title pulls double duty as the feeling with which the film left me. I’m so excited!

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