Saturday, July 6, 2013

Not Quite: Pedro Almodóvar's I'm So Excited

Pedro Almodóvar's I'm So Excited

Pedro Almodóvar's latest movie I’m So Excited (Los amantes pasajeros, which translates as The Passenger Lovers or The Fleeting Lovers) is being billed as a return to the glory days of his early comedies, such as Labyrinth of Passion (1982), What Have I Done to Deserve This? (1983) and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988). Those movies, made at the beginning of Almodóvar’s career, were delightfully anarchic and outrageous. At the time they were released, they pushed the envelope with their take on so-called alternative sexualities, and offered unique social and political commentaries on newly democratic post-Franco Spain. Thirty years later, when cable television and even network shows like Glee routinely explore these issues, Almodóvar’s movies merely come across as tame copies of what he did so memorably before and without any real scathing commentary behind them.

I’m So Excited is just a piffle of movie; Almodóvar rightfuly describes it as “a light, very light comedy,” so much so that I’d say it flies away into the ether. And the story, revolving around most of an airplane’s flight crew and a few first class passengers who contemplate their lives when they find out that they have nowhere to land and with a damaged landing gear might not survive a landing anyway, isn’t particularly challenging, either for Almodóvar nor the audience. In many ways the same applied to his last feature, the enervated horror/drama The Skin I Live In (2011).

Cecilia Roth in I'm So Excited
There are echoes of Almodóvar's fellow Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel's The Exterminating Angel (1962) and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) here, daring movies in which the upper and religious classes are caught up in situations completely out of their control. But although Buñuel was as generous to those he mocked as Almodóvar, he was also a lot more cynical, recognizing the hypocrisy and corruption behind the guise of propriety and righteousness. But even Almodóvar could and did jape at his country’s foibles, albeit in a less overtly political way. I’m So Excited rarely does that unless you think the joke about all the economy passengers being put to sleep with muscle relaxants given them by the stewardesses is smart or a probing commentary on the lower classes being kept out of the loop and not knowing what’s really going on. It’s not and it removes some potentially interesting culture clashes if the varied economy class passengers aren’t really part of the movie’s main storyline. The first class passengers include a possibly corrupt banker, a sexy dominatrix and a virginal psychic, in other words the usual flotsam and jetsam of any Almodóvar comedy, including some of his regular actors such as Cecilia Roth as the dominatrix and Lola Dueñas as the psychic.

I’m So Excited barely touches on Spain’s current perilous economic situation, with a quarter of the populace out of work and austerity measures wreaking havoc on the country’s social safety net. For some reason Almodóvar finds it easier to make jokes about Mexico’s situation – the plane is on the way from Spain to Mexico – and its supposed penchant for violence than deal in any way with what’s going on at home, even though in interviews he professes deep concern about his country’s plight. Granted, this is a light comedy but that’s no excuse for avoiding all the obvious issues worthy of cinematic satire.

All that’s left then is some gay humour about the stewards who are involved with each other or the co-captain who says he’s straight but may not be. It’s campy, bitchy and biting but nothing we haven’t seen before in so many Almodóvar movies. The film’s set piece, with the North American title borrowing from it, in which the three stewards (Javier Cámara, Raúl Arévalo, Carlos Areces) lip sync to the Pointer Sisters’ "I’m So Excited," is funny, but nothing fresh, either – you see something similar in Francois Ozon’s 8 Women (2002), with women doing the singing but with the same gay sensibility brought in by the filmmaker. Despite its exuberant English title, I’m So Excited is, finally, pretty tepid stuff.

Shlomo Schwartzberg is a film critic, teacher and arts journalist based in Toronto. He teaches regular film courses at Ryerson University’s LIFE Institute and the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre.

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