Pedro Almodóvar’s self-consciously campy comedy opens with a facetious disclaimer of bearing “no relation to reality.” Still, given that the movie is set on a plane whose less well-heeled passengers have been knocked out with muscle relaxant, viewers should assume brace position for a high-flying metaphor.
Returning the director to the loose-limbed, farcical mode of Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown (1988), I’m So Excited! largely unfolds aboard a troubled flight from Madrid to Mexico City. The aircraft’s wheels are stuck—in a prologue, ground workers Antonio Banderas and Penélope Cruz are distracted with news of her pregnancy—setting the stage for a potentially fatal landing. In the film’s most Buñuelian conceit, the plane never leaves Spain’s airspace, awaiting clearance for runways that are alternately overused or deserted.
With the coach passengers drugged by the crew into mass siesta, the movie concerns itself with business class and the airline’s fantastically unprofessional crew. Everyone has something to hide: The bisexual captain (Antonio De La Torre) is having an affair with a flight attendant (Talk To Her star Javier Cámara) who, in one of the better running jokes, cannot tell a lie. A businessman (José Luis Torrijo) is fleeing to escape prosecution, while an actress-turned-madam (Cecilia Roth) has a scandalous history of her own. A newlywed man (Miguel Ángel Silvestre) acts as a courier, and a virginal psychic (Lola Dueñas) senses today will be her lucky day. With spiked cocktails fueling an assortment of flamboyant sexual theatrics, this cross section of high-society charlatans distracts itself from the fact that the Spanish plane is a literal bubble about to burst.
Like 2011’s underrated The Skin I Live In, I’m So Excited! aspires to outrageousness, and compared to some of Almodóvar’s high-toned recent work (Volver, Broken Embraces), it is bracingly blunt and unpretentious. But after establishing a jaunty tone with its candy-colored, Saul Bass–style opening credits, the film racks up a high strain-to-laugh ratio; there’s a sense Almodóvar can’t quite keep track of all his gags. Slapdash screenwriting facilitates the single-set restrictions: Due to a technical failure, no one can watch movies or use Airfones—and the one phone that does work broadcasts conversations over the loudspeaker. (The calls lead to a pointless subplot on the ground.) And notwithstanding the Airplane!-style exclamation point in the movie’s English-language title, it’s highly unlikely post-9/11 travelers would be permitted to enter the cockpit.
“Is this how this company deals with emergencies?” the exasperated financier asks after three flight attendants perform an impressively choreographed rendition of The Pointer Sisters’ title number. It’s tempting to ask a similar question of Almodóvar, who treats even his most brazen material (such as Dueñas’ telepath committing sexual assault) with a blithe shrug. Perhaps that’s par for the course with allegory; whatever else happens aboard this flight, there’s rarely a sense the levity might deflate.