Whilst Pedro Almodóvar remains the modern maestro of Spanish cinema in both drama and comedy, his latest picture, I’m So Excited starring Javier Cámara, Raúl Arévalo and Carlos Areces as three ultra-camp male airplane stewards fails to fulfil the hype that one expects from an Almodóvar film. We haven’t seen straight out comedy since the 1988 global hit, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and in recent years Almodóvar has concentrated on much more intense and provocative pictures like The Skin I Live In (2011), Broken Embraces (2009) and Bad Education (2004).
As we are aware from the early Almodóvar years, he is more than capable of piecing together some of the greatest Spanish films ever created; one only has to admire the films, which were hugely politically charged and really felt as if they were fulfilling some need for cultural exorcism in a changing society. In 1978, Spain was adopting a new constitution at the end of forty years of dictatorship from General Franco who had previously maintained his control over Spain and the Spanish people through the systematic oppression of views and opinions. But as time moved on and censorship ceased, Spain moved into a cultural era known as ‘La Movida Madrileña’ (The Madrid Scene). This countercultural movement was seen to represent the resurrection of the economy of Spain and the emergence of a new Spanish identity. On 1st December 1977, film censorship was altogether abolished in a country that had previously been under strict guidance as to what could be shown and discussed on screen. Almodóvar made his first two films, Pepi, Luci, Bom (1980) and Labyrinth of Passion (1982) in a very different mode of filmmaking to his later ones and this is seen through the mise-en-scéne. The films were made on a relatively low budget and fully embodied the DIY artistry of the movement, which was heavily influenced by the punk principle of ‘do it yourself’.
Over the years Almodóvar’s films have taken various twists and turns, with collaborators picked up and dropped along the way, covering a wide range of topics and have always been very prevalent in the consciousness of the Spanish audiences. When the teaser trailer for I’m So Excited was released, there was a small squeak of glee in the hearts of fans all around the world that he was returning home to the films that landed him as a worldwide superstar. There was colour, there was campness and most of all, there was that satirical humour, which placed a mirror directly over the culture that he was so inherently engrained within.
I’m So Excited is one of those films, which on initial viewing seemed pretty uninterested in exploring anything beneath the surface. It was flashy and colourful and screamed sex and although it was constantly referring back to the earlier films of Almodóvar, it never seemed anymore to do anything more than remind the audience of a former glory. These thoughts marred the image of what the film delivered. But on further thought, there is much more in the film than meets the eye.
Cámara, Arévalo and Areces star as Joserra, Ulloa and Fajas, a trio of flight attendants who like to get up to on board shenanigans. They are in charge of the business class passengers and this is where the majority of the film is set. Very quickly, we learn that the flight to Mexico, which the passengers have boarded for a variety of reasons is having to make an emergency landing not far from the original spot of departure because there are technical difficulties with the plane. But complications mean they have no where to land and they instead, spend the whole film, spiralling round and round until a landing strip becomes clear for them. There is the constant, overwhelming sense of danger throughout the film that the plane could crash at any time and this would place all the passengers in fatal danger. Our hilarious attendants fly (mind the pun) to the rescue to entertain the passengers and ensure they are kept as busy and sedated as possible from the possibility of things going further wrong.
Each of the passengers on the plane have different reasons for getting away and we spend a small amount of time with a focus on each one of them and their reactions to the dangers of the plane. All About My Mother (1999) star Cecilia Roth plays the domineering and frankly mysterious, Madame Norma, who has a history of filming her sexual encounters with some very important men. Guillermo Toledo plays Ricardo, a womaniser who on hearing the possibility of his death tries to tell his girlfriend that he won’t be coming back, all the while she is planning to jump off a bridge. As with any Almodóvar film, stories collide and twist in a hilarious and unlikely fashion, when the suicidal woman’s phone falls in the bicycle basket of one of Ricardo’s ex-girlfriend’s (Blanca Suárez) who is still harbouring an undying love for him. José María Yazpik plays a hitman who gets very close to Madame Norma and no one seems to question why and recent frequent collaborator, Lola Dueñas plays Bruna, who claims she can hear from the other side but ultimately is just wanting to lose her virginity.
Two of these characters in particular stood out highlights in this slightly self obsessed film. Madame Norma and Bruna were both the most intriguing and hysterical characters in the film. This may have something to do with the fact that they have played seminal roles in recent Almodóvar films and therefore they stand out on screen, but even their characters are the most fulfilling and have the best story lines of the film. Both seem to hark back to the punk aesthetic that I mentioned earlier with their awareness of their sexuality and willingness to openly discuss it. They were both independent and provocative women, something Almodóvar is best at creating and although they were ultimately soap opera archetypes, they were possibly the only characters who seemed to have genuine emotions about the risks ahead of them. Their interactions with the rest of the cast improved all the stories and they lead the film strongly. As well as this, the opening sequence with cameos from collaborators, Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz, were gripping and hysterical. It was lovely to see the true intertextuality of the piece where an audience who had grown up with this films would have understood these actors reasons for being on screen and how they ultimately hold Almodóvar dear, as the reasons for pretty much making them global superstars. Almodóvar really does clearly love his characters and understands their entire history, but unfortunately for many, he doesn’t provide enough information or background for an audience to feel the same way.
As previously mentioned, it does take some further thinking on I’m So Excited to fully understand the careful nuances of the picture and where Almodóvar is truly returning back to his previous forms of filmmaking and writing. This is a political picture, but it possibly loses it’s emphasis for an international audience. The political climate in Spain is at it’s hardest since Franco and the country is very much in a changing state of flux at the moment. I’m So Excited marks both a lighthearted comedy, which will allow its home audience to watch a film that will take them out of their lives and make them smile when they walk out. But also the film does contain many references throughout to the world in which the Spanish currently find themselves. As a country going through changes where many of them lack in stability, the impact of impending death or possibility of anything happening to the plane up in the air makes a lot more sense. The characters on the plane represent the Spanish people where anything could happen and they don’t honestly know how they are going to end up. Furthermore, the entire economy class of the plane are sedated at the very beginning and knocked out so they don’t know what is happening, this is possibly Almodóvar’s way of representing the people of Spain whose judgement is clouded by those higher than them as they are being told what to believe. Thinking along these terms really does open the film up for further contemplation.
As with many of Almodóvar’s films, he deals with sex in an intriguing and unique way. When the plane descends in an orgy, the audience are quite unsure what to do with what is on screen as are some of the characters. But this further is a reminder of Almodóvar’s joy at representing a counterculture where sex isn’t something to be kept quite but rather something to be shared amongst everyone that is around. Also he is tapping into so many people’s fantasies of either having group sex or sex on a plane and instead humanises it and colours it with humour and candour.
What I’m So Excited really does have in it’s favour is the way it looks and feels. It’s a candy covered joy ride of colour, camp and music. The film’s central piece, the performance of the song I’m So Excited by The Pointer Sisters by the steward trio is hysterical and is an outstanding piece of choreography and cinematography. Almodóvar has created a diegesis on the plane in which anything can happen and despite the amount of room on the plane itself, it seems perfectly plausible that an entire dance routine can be performed – and the audience accept this. The colour of the film is striking and really one of the huge positives, bringing the audience further into the story of the characters. Also I’m So Excited continues Almodóvar’s tour de force in representing homosexuality on the big screen – it isn’t a special point but simply is and the film is based in a world where homosexuality doesn’t stand out as something different but instead integral.
All in all, I’m So Excited is a very funny joyride, looking back on a beautiful history of Almodóvar. It makes his fans laugh at his farcical nature and for those aware of Spanish politics, it is certainly bound to open up international discussion about the changes happening in the country. But for someone with little knowledge of either Almodóvar or the state of the country, you walk away having enjoyed the experience but not remembering too much because ultimately this is a film where very little actually happens.
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