Movie of the week: I’m So Excited

There are some stressy heterosexuals as well. They are theoretically menaced by a danger that no one, least of all the audience, is taking all that seriously.

The movie is Almodóvar’s satirical venting of national exasperation with the economy, the king and perhaps even Spain itself — a troubled country that the plane is making its hazardous and entirely ineffective attempt to leave. But, finally, I’m So Excited is less ambitious than that: it’s more like a lark, a small-scale domestic flight that returns the director, inevitably, to his favourite, hedonistic concerns of sexual identity and sexual transgression.

In the opening credits, for the first time I can remember, he announces himself with his first name as well as his last, as opposed to just using the single, legendary surname “Almo­dóvar” — perhaps signalling that he is lightening up, and we can all unbuckle our seat belts, bring down the tray-tables, have a drink and perhaps even an unthinkable cigarette. It could be that, like Woody Allen, Almodóvar has decided to ride a second autumnal wave of comedy and return to the wackiness of his youth.

In many ways, this movie resembles nothing so much as the 1990s BBC sitcom, The High Life, with Alan Cumming as the high-camp air steward Sebastian Flight. And might it be that, in some international hotel room, somewhere, Almodóvar once caught an episode of the David Walliams and Matt Lucas comedy/docu-soap Come Fly with Me.

The fact of it being set on an aeroplane is somehow not very important. This doesn’t behave much like an aeroplane disaster film, spoof or otherwise. It is more like some drawing-room comedy-farce in which the drawing room in question is big and fuselage-shaped, and the cockpit, where the big, secret issues must be bickeringly discussed, is akin to the kitchen where the host and his wife must frantically cover up the disasters about to befall their guests.

Almodóvar deploys some of his traditional repertory casting: Javier Cámara (from Talk to Her and Bad Education) plays Joserra, the gay air steward who nurses complex feelings for the captain, Àlex (Antonio de la Torre). Cecilia Roth is a ferociously focused presence as Norma, a charismatic businesswoman in business class with a secret connection to the very highest in the land. Lola Dueñas gives a rich, warm and likeable performance as Bruna, the virginal young woman who claims to have second sight and detects the smell of death in certain areas of the plane. And Antonio Banderas and Penélope Cruz phone in a couple of cameos at the beginning, playing a highly unlikely pair of ground crew, a married couple whose emotionally distracted state is to trigger the later crisis in the air.

The movie is not, in fact, rigorously restricted to its single interior location. A desperate mobile call to someone on the ground in Madrid while the plane circles Toledo cues a longish conventional sequence down on terra firma. The exterior scenes in the city and, for that matter, on the plane, are, of course, gorgeously shot by cinematographer José Luis Alcaine with those rich summery colours that, as in all Almodóvar’s films, seem to hum and pop.

It’s all watchable and funny. The stricken passengers allude to the terrible financial situation in Spain; Almodóvar contrives a modest gag by having people confuse that dire situation with the one on the plane. This satirical intent is lightly handled: anything more explicit would have been oppressive. Almodóvar’s intention is to use it all to get a genial sex comedy airborne. This he does, and he makes it look easy. — © Guardian News & Media 2013


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Peter Bradshaw
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