I’m So Excited
Pedro Almodovar’s old name is back, and so is his old style. The Spanish auteur, a godfather of queer cinema, has been going simply by ’Almodovar’ for years. It’s as if he was willing himself into position as the Prince of world cinema. And his claims to one-name-ism have been backed up by his output: His past 15 years of work, starting with the beloved "All About My Mother," have seen him deal in darker themes, in more intricate narratives -- in films that seem designed, for better or worse, to appeal to those outside his fan base as much as they did to those inside it.
But now he’s cut loose: He’s returned to the ridiculous, screwball nature that defined the films that made ’Almodovar’ a name in the first place. The ’Pedro’ has returned, and farce has come back with it.
"I’m So Excited!" is a throwback to his lighter works, a return to ensemble-based lunacy. As such, we don’t have characters. We have personalities, archetypes, and icons. We open on the latter: This whole disaster begins because Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz, in blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameos, are too busy flirting to correctly cordon off the blocks holding Peninsula 2549’s landing wheels. So when the flight takes off, with our ensemble cast seated comfortably in business class, the wheels break, and landing becomes a moot possibility. Pilots, stewards, passengers; They’re all locked in place up there, floating around the Spanish skies, looking for a runway that doesn’t exist. And worst of all, they’re stuck with each other.
Everyone in coach is knocked out with a muscle relaxant, so that leaves us with the upper-class denizens. We have a madam/dominatrix (Cecilia Roth,) eternally fearful for her life, and the suave stranger (José María Yazpik) who may or may not be a hitman out to get her. There’s an an uptight businessman traveling with funds of questionable legitimacy, and a soap-star (Guillermo Toledo) helplessly using the plane’s only phone - it has no receiver; in a brilliant gag, the calls are broadcast to the whole compartment via speaker - to sort out his romantic affairs.
Then there’s the mescaline-smuggling honeymooning couple sleeping in a front row, a Greek Chorus-style performing trio of male stewards, two bi-curious male pilots, and a virginal psychic who’s very sure that today is going to be her big day. No one manages to get exactly what he or she wants, but everyone manages to get with somebody else.
Yes, the film is ludicrous, ridiculous, over-the-top. It’s exuberantly tacky, and gleefully crass. It opens with a disclaimer promising that nothing in the film is meant to be ’realistic,’ and it introduces us with a Saul Bass-style animated opening credits sequence. The whole picture may as well be animated, actually.
Almodovar is shooting digitally for the first time, and he actually does something with the technology: He embraces the cleanliness, the lack of filmic texture. Every color is primary; every image pops with sunny shine; every character given their own specific palette. The film feels like it jumped out of an American Airlines advertisement. It’s a whole movie designed as if it were a color-popping poster.
Yet the screwball banter keeps the obsessively coded aesthetics from diminishing the film’s vivacity. (Almodovar, in one cockpit-set sequence, sets eight voices on top of each other simultaneously.) The nonstop energy, the sexual bravado, and the escalating escapades are more than enough to excuse the frothy slightness. It may not be dense with subtext, but who cares? "I’m So Excited" is as intoxicating as its characters are intoxicated.
And along with the promises of "unreality," Almodovar has gone on record saying this is his "gayest film yet." That’s a tough claim to quantify. It’d be like trying to decide the most violent Tarantino film, or the most coked-out Scorsese movie. Almodovar’s designation isn’t inexplicable, of course. His picture is flamboyant and decorative and "queen-y," and could’ve never been made by a straight man. But like all his movies, it’s not a piece of propaganda. It’s not pro-gay; it’s just pro-sex.
Almodovar’s films present a world where sex is what drives us, commands us, forces our every move, and dictates our every thought. Gender and orientation and race and class are all irrelevant: Everyone likes to fuck. Maybe it’s not unrealistic after all.