July 2 2013 08:08 PM

Almodóvar's comedy ridicules sexual labels while celebrating sexuality

First-class service, Almodovar-style

After spending nearly a decade exploring the darker impulses of revenge (The Skin I Live In, Bad Education) and heartache (Volver, Broken Embraces), it's good to see Pedro Almodóvar having fun again. With I'm So Excited!, a brash comedy set almost entirely on an airplane, the Spanish auteur uses the cramped locale to ridicule the contradictions of modern-day sexuality. 

The film gives us gay, straight and bisexual characters all trapped in a confined disaster-film scenario (the landing gear won't open, so it's time to get crazy!). Yet their mutual hysteria masks Almodóvar's interest in subverting representations of identity and exposing the ridiculousness of labels, specifically in modern-day Spain.  

Being narrow-minded has always been the kiss of death for Almodóvar's characters, but in I'm So Excited!, they aren't so much ignorant of other lifestyles as they are delusional of their own. After a playful Saul Bass-inspired credit sequence that brilliantly introduces the film's sense of "fiction and fantasy," there's a brief prologue involving a pair of runway workers whose starry-eyed desire for one another causes a work-related mishap that sets the story in motion. These blue-collar workers are played by film icons Antonio Banderas and Penélope Cruz, suggesting that Almodóvar is both poking fun at his own cinematic footprint and the way star personas inevitably mask normal-people problems. 

Once aboard the expansive jetliner run by the fictional Peninsula Air, the film pushes this notion even further, casting a veritable who's-who of Spanish performers in virtually each role. The great Cecilia Roth plays Norma, a model-turned-madam on her way to Mexico City to visit a client. Javier Cámara stars as Joserra, the manic lead steward who, along with his two colleagues, provides the film with its central musical number and persistent immediacy. Almodóvar regulars fill out other key roles: Antonio de la Torre plays the sexually confused pilot, Lola Dueñas the 40-year-old virgin psychic and José Luis Torrijo the corrupt businessman with daughter issues. 

Each of the characters helps inform deceptively random plot points that are driven by chance and fate. This gives I'm So Excited! tangible energy. Hardly any transitional moments exist between scenes, one bleeding into the next depending on the rapidity of action and dialogue. Almodóvar cleverly uses the one working cabin telephone to escape the captivity of the plane and involve different characters on the ground. Except, everyone on the plane can hear both sides of the conversations due to a malfunctioning speaker, making the private unabashedly public, open for judgment and celebration alike. 

I'm So Excited! is a colorful and textual distraction from the fact that we're all careening toward demise. But there's revelation in its façade. Incessant invasions into the cockpit by staff and passengers don't cause alarm for the normal reasons (terrorism, safety); they expose true emotions and destroy lies, turning the airplane into a safe haven posing as a madhouse. Here, insanity is simply expressing yourself more openly, with an ironic sense of your own mortality.

While I'm So Excited! and its genre-oriented subplots unfold in business class, the entire economy section lies asleep, drugged by the stewardesses to retain a measure of calm while the professionals buy time to land. It's as if the outlandish characters and scenarios are being created not just by the filmmaker, but also via the dreams of those fictional regular people immersed in slumber. Collectively, they may as well be projecting fantastic variations of Almodóvar's oeuvre, realizing new ideas faster than the characters themselves can express. If this is the case, then I"m So Excited!—opening Friday, July 5, at Hillcrest Cinemas—is truly a communal experience, one where craziness unearths repression to produce personal (and perhaps national) awakening.

Write to glennh@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com.


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