My first memory of watching a Pedro Almodovar film was a long time ago in the early nineties when I saw a televised screening of “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” on SBS (an Australian television channel that specialized in foreign films). It was unlike anything I had ever seen before; it was so daring, sexy and very naughty. Despite the risqué content in the film, “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” also had a wicked sense of humor, of the blackest variety and I immediately fell in love with the film and its director. I searched for a lot of his earlier films, which often were full of sex, nudity, homosexual jokes and that same sense of humor I found in his later film. Nowadays though, Almodovar is more known for his melodramas, and for good reason; they are fantastic, but back in his early days comedies, with titles like “Dark Habits”, “Pepi, Luci, Bom and the Other Girls” and probably his most well known comedy “Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown”, seemed to be more his forte. However with his 1995 film “The Secret Of My Flower”, a new Almodovar appeared; someone who had put aside his immature comedies in an attempt to focus on melodrama, something he had always been a big fan of. The film’s success saw Almodovar hone his talent within this genre, as he got increasingly better and better, until he had become one of the world’s greatest directors consistently turning out brilliant and mature pieces of work for twenty years. Coming off arguably his greatest (and darkest) film yet with “The Skin I Live In”, Almodovar decided to return to what initially made him famous, the comedy, but were his fans willing to go back with him?
“I’m So Excited!” is set on a passenger jet travelling from Spain to its destination of Mexico City. Soon after takeoff, however, the pilots are made aware that part of their landing gear has been damaged during takeoff, meaning that a safe landing with no casualties is almost no chance. As such, the plane must circle in the air burning as much fuel as they can, while also waiting for a vacant runway to be made available and prepared for their crash landing. When word gets out amongst the cabin staff that this could very well be the end, they handle the situation by turning to drugs and alcohol in an attempt to keep themselves calm during this affair, while also trying to keep the passengers entertained (by the way of choreographed dance numbers) so the gravity of the situation never gets out of hand. While all of the passengers in economy class are drugged so they sleep through the flight, those in business class start causing troubles for the cabin crew as they demand to know what is going on. These people include an aging film star, a middle aged clairvoyant determined to lose her virginity on the flight, a former popular model turned dominatrix, a big business magnate, a honeymooning couple and a mysterious man who may or may not be a hitman. When their possible plight is made known to them, realizing that these may be their last hours alive, it causes the group to relax and either reflect on their life and their failings or just sit back and enjoy what little time they have left.
Right from the opening trailers of “I’m So Excited!”, I have been very worried about this new Almodovar film. The trailer seemed to mainly focus on the scene where the three male flight attendants dance and lip sync to the Pointer Sisters’ “I’m So Excited”, and it just looked so camp and overdone, that any anticipation I had for the film evaporated. Even Almodovar’s attitude towards his new film had me worried, when he said that he didn’t want to go through the usual festival channels with this film and he just wanted to have fun. While there is nothing wrong with this at all, it just seemed that he wasn’t taking his latest film as seriously as I would normally expect from this great director. That said, coming off of the incredibly dark and disturbing “The Skin I Live In”, it is unsurprising that he felt this was the right time to try out a comedy again, as he probably needed to really clean his palette after that previous film. Well, I am happy to report that despite the numerous bad reviews for this film currently circulating, I found “I’m So Excited!” to be an extremely entertaining film and at times, very funny. While it may be true that it is one of Almodovar’s worst films, it is nowhere near the blight on his oeuvre as some have made it out to be. An Almodovar film that could be considered average by his standards, is very often much better than anything else going around these days.
Almodovar and his films are well known for focusing on strong female characters, but “I’m So Excited!” goes against this and features a large male cast. The three main flight attendants are all men, granted they are effeminate men, and are superbly played by Javier Camara, Carlos Areces and Raul Arevalo. They are as camp as anything and their performances are as broad as you could imagine, but they were so entertaining, although there were times when Areces and Arevalo scared me with some of their facial expressions. For mine though, the best performance of “I’m So Excited!” is Javier Camara as Joserra, a flight attendant struggling with a dependency on alcohol while at the same time being struck with an affliction of never being able to tell a lie to anyone (thus the rest of the crew have to be careful what they say around him). Whenever Camara is on screen, the film’s quality just increases as he is so charismatic in the role that you enjoy being in this incredibly flawed man’s company. What I also loved about him is he is someone who is comfortable with who he is and what he has in his life. This is Camara’s third time working with Pedro Almodovar, after his stellar turn (and completely different role) in “Talk To Her” and his brief role in “Bad Education”. In fact Camara is not the only Almodovar regular to show up in “I’m So Excited” as the cast is littered with them. Probably the nicest inclusion is that of Cecilia Roth, who could be considered one of Pedro Almodovar’s early muses and who regularly appeared in those lowbrow comedies from his eighties work that he seems to be channeling here. This is the first time since 1999’s classic “All About My Mother”, that Almodovar and Roth have worked together and it is obvious to see that they still share an amazing comedic chemistry, as she is both fantastic and hilarious as the former model/current dominatrix Norma Boss. It just seems right with Almodovar returning to his roots that he bring Roth along for the ride too.
Besides Roth and Camara, a number of other Almodovar regulars have joined him, the likes of Penelope Cruz, Antonio Banderas, Lola Duenas, Paz Vega and Blanca Suarez, all filling out the supporting cast or supplying “amusing” cameos. The high profile names of Cruz and Banderas are brief cameos that come at the start of the film and it is their scene together that inadvertently causes the damage to the plane’s landing gear. While this may sound like quite an important scene in regards to the rest of the film, it is anything but and actually feels quite superfluous to the rest of the film, to the point that I would have personally preferred to see the scene end up on the cutting room floor. The other moment in the film that feels totally unnecessary to the rest of the film (but is handled much better than the earlier moment I just mentioned) is when we leave the confines of the plane and are introduced to the aging film star’s mentally ill and obsessed ex-girlfriend, as well as his current lover. It appears that Almodovar was unable to leave melodrama alone altogether and these scenes of a suicidal Paz Vega are the closest he comes to delivering the types of drama he has since become famous for. However as effective as these scenes are, they go totally against the tone of the rest of the film, and this brief sojourn away from the comedy of the rest of the film ends up feeling totally pointless.
In regards to the comedy, it is as immature, camp and over-the-top as all of Almodovar’s previous comedies, however this time around it does feel a little forced. Do not get me wrong, I found “I’m So Excited!” to be a quite fun and silly experience, but the type of comedy that worked so well back in the 80’s, doesn’t quite translate as well today. The world is a much different place, as is Almodovar himself, but his sense of humour appears to have remained the same and I am not sure that it is in sync with the rest of the world like it once was. People unfamiliar with Almodovar’s previous comedies are bound to be shocked with some of the issues and content used to get a laugh; that is for sure.
Behind the camera, “I’m So Excited!” is, as to be expected, expertly handled. Jose Luis Alcaine once again returns as Pedro Almodovar’s cinematographer of choice and he gives the film a very bright and clean (not to mention colourful) appearance. I must admit that I was quite impressed by the quality of shots used in “I’m So Excited!” because I was expecting the rougher, edgier style of the early Almodovar films to reappear here, but instead this film is gorgeous to look at. Almodovar’s other important and regular contributor to his films, Alberto Iglesias, also returns to deliver quite a strange and oddball but totally appropriate score for “I’m So Excited” that is unlike anything else he has done for this great director. Before I end this review, I just want to make mention of the choreographed dance sequence to the song of the title. As I mentioned, when I saw parts of the scene in the trailer, it looked painful and embarrassing but I have to say that during the actual film when the scene takes place, it is actually quite hilarious and one of the highlights of the film, and it is brilliantly staged, shot and edited.
Overall, it may be true that “I’m So Excited” is Pedro Almodovar’s worst film, however it is hardly the disaster so many critics have made it out to be. Personally I found the film to be much funnier than I was expecting although for people unfamiliar with Almodovar’s comedies, the humour may be too risqué or shocking to appreciate. As usual for a Pedro Almodovar film, “I’m So Excited” has been put together meticulously, although due to the content within the film it is fair to say that his latest film is what you could describe as “Almodovar-lite”. While it was nice to see Almodovar return to his comedic roots, and as much as I enjoyed “I’m So Excited!”, I hope his return is a short one and his next film is a return to the dark melodramas that he has become an expert at. Until then, sit back and enjoy “I’m So Excited!” and don’t believe the hype; it is a much better film than anyone is giving it credit for being.