Monday, August 5, 2013

Flirting during potential disaster

Turns out it’s actually key to the set-up, but I liked the fact that I’m So Excited! (Los amantes pasajeros) opens with what feels like a non sequitur, a sequence involving two major international stars—Almodóvar alumni both—in bit parts, having a heart-to-heart while ostensibly preparing a passenger jet for a transatlantic journey. The promise of inspired nonsense whetted my appetite for Almodóvar’s first full-on comedy in 20 years. There are those that feel that, like Woody Allen, the Spanish writer-director never recovered once he veered away from comedy. Personally, I’m a huge admirer of the later work, but once you sample the dizzy absurdities of something like Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988), it can become tough to argue. But no one is likely to call this a return to form.

The problem with I’m So Excited! is that it reaches cruising altitude right off the top and then goes in circles for the film’s remainder. I’m not just being cute—that’s quite literally what happens in this story of a Madrid-to-Mexico City flight that winds up looping over Toledo when the crew discovers that the landing gear has been compromised. Uncertain how to prepare for or where to make an emergency landing, and facing the possibility of catastrophe, the flight attendants dope the economy passengers to sleep—with some drug that seems to cause flatulence—before proceeding to get smashed themselves on various substances. With the specter of death looming and libations loosening inhibitions, the crew and a handful of business-class passengers immediately begin unloading secrets and, why not?, getting super-horny.

There’s a self-proclaimed clairvoyant virgin (Lola Dueñas) who knows something is amiss and starts sizing up a sleepy boner in the rear cabin. There’s a middle-aged movie star (Guillermo Toledo) who makes an in-flight call to a girlfriend on the cusp of suicide. There’s a mysterious Zappa-moustached Mexican in a black suit (José Luis Torrijo) conspicuously reading a copy of Bolaño’s 2666. There’s Norma (Cecilia Roth) whose diva-like sense of entitlement stems from her supposed cache of evidence of powerful men indulging in her services as an ultra-high-class sex worker. There are two sexually ambivalent pilots (Antonio de la Torre, Hugo Silva) and a trio of cuddly-effeminate stewards (Javier Cámara, Carlos Areces, Raúl Arévalo) who provide much of the film’s most enjoyable moments because of their inability to shut up. Unfortunately, the stewards also feature in what is easily the film’s worst, if not downright unwatchable sequence, in which Almodóvar stages a lip-synch/dance number to the unabridged, normally irresistible titular Pointer Sisters’ hit about female wantonness. Full of limpid whip-pans and lousy choreography, Almodóvar spends the whole of the song embarrassingly aping antiquated music video clichés. It’s like walking into a drunken private karaoke party stone-cold sober.

The premise of I’m So Excited! could easily be that of a porno—this is a quality I find quite endearing. Unfortunately, as with porn, there isn’t really anywhere to go once the story is in motion and, unlike a porno, there’s no real climax and no destination. Which isn’t to say that there’s no fun to be had; I laughed plenty during the first half. But once the best jokes have been spent, I’m So Excited seems to switch to Almodóvar-autopilot, at which point you’d might as well snooze with everybody in the cheap seats. 

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