By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic
The impressive thing about filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar’s “I’m So Excited,” a jaunty, often hilarious melodrama at 30,000 feet, is the workmanship. Though it gives the impression of a free-for-all, the tightly constructed, politically incorrect cascade of ideas is actually a precise blend. It’s “La Cage aux Folles” (1978) meets Noel Coward and then they go over Arthur Hailey’s (”Airport”–1970) house.
Taking the old idea of tossing a bunch of random strangers, friends and lovers into a potential tragedy and going it one better by making a few cheeky statements along the way results in a farce that nonetheless never relinquishes its disastrous potential. There is duality at every juncture, double entendres galore, and a bittersweet bit of Euro-savvy gender-bending.
Thus, prior to complete recommendation for American audiences, the caveats must be noted. Wordy and fast-paced, the film is in Spanish with English subtitles, the cant and pace integral to the fun and fascination. And while it can get a bit challenging if not downright arduous speed-reading the lickety-split dialogue, one suspects all would have been lost in translation if Mr. Almodóvar had instead chosen to sacrilegiously dub his comedy.
The other precondition revolves around the viewer’s level of open-mindedness. For all intents and purposes running the show as Peninsula flight # 2549 tries to avert crashing due to faulty landing gear are three gay stewards and a homosexual pilot having an affair with one of them. Playing the moral conscience is a virgin (Lola Dueñas) with psychic powers hoping to alter her status by journey’s end. It gets zany.
Thus a lot of the humor depends on a risqué factor that, while still edgy in Spain, may seem like yesterday’s news in an America that has moved up the tolerance ladder quicker than some may have thought possible … at least legally, if not emotionally. All the same, while not without its stinging notions about diehard Victorians, it is by and large lighthearted, assured and smartly liberating. It’s about interaction.
Alternately at each other’s throats, commiserating or celebrating their circumstances, and all possessing a touch of Pagliacci in their manner, Javier Cámara is Joserra; Carlos Areces is Fajas; and Raúl Arévalo is Ulloa. When first we meet the three flight attendants, they have just surreptitiously drugged all the business class passengers so that they might sleep through the crisis. The pilot, co-pilot, and a half dozen tourist travelers who are spared the soporific round out the principals.
Developed in typical form, but nevertheless realized with notable aplomb, the story emphasis flits from one character’s personal calamity to the next. They dish the dirt, swap lies, and share long undisclosed secrets in a cozy, group tête-à-tête. And ultimately, perhaps due to the threat of imminent extinction, the truth in each situation is mined with a seriocomic flourish.
Cecilia Roth, who reminds of Lee Grant in her fifties, is Norma Boss, a high and mighty grand dame known for her infamous work in the naughtier realm of Filmdom. Whether paranoid or not, and due to licentious reasoning that can’t be divulged here, she’s sure the government is out to kill her. The three star-struck, swooning stewards simply can’t get enough of the notorious icon, begging her to tell all.
Harboring another sort of infamy, José Luis Torrijo is the newsworthy financier, Señor Más, who, despite what we first surmise, and like the rest of his fellow travelers, has another side to him. Add to all this a gay pilot who hasn’t explained the penchant to his wife, a co-pilot in a quandary over his sexual orientation and two randy newlyweds.
So on and so forth go the characterizations and subsequent analyses, unabashedly soap opera-ish, but effective via their confidently honest execution. A bit more ephemeral and harder to figure than the place and characterization is the time. While it’s undoubtedly contemporary, a survey of the moods and opinions extolled suggests the relativity of era.
It is, how do you say, muy philosophical, the impact of the crew and passengers’ plights further compounded by the fallout some of them have left in the form of friends, lovers and relatives down on terra firma. And while we’re soon certain that this isn’t one of Mr. Almodóvar’s best works, we are still always aware that a genius lurks within the fabric.
It’s the menagerie of anecdotes mixed together with a continental flare that makes the movie such a splendid amuse-bouche, an appetizing palate cleanser for both cineastes and more adventurous moviegoers. Considering the tiresome preponderance of post-apocalyptic extravaganzas invading our movie screens of late, it’s understandable why “I’m So Excited” about touting something so slight as a potential airline catastrophe.
“I’m So Excited,” rated R, is a Sony Pictures Classics release directed by Pedro Almodóvar and stars Javier Cámara, Carlos Areces and Cecilia Roth. Running time: 90 minutes
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