Thursday, April 11, 2013

I'm So Excited – Pedro Almodóvar

I’m So Excited (Los amantes pasajeros) (Pedro Almodóvar – Spain) 90 minutes

I am old enough to remember a time when film critics approached a new Pedro Almodóvar film with all their critical faculties intact. That era ended around about the time of 1997’s Live Flesh and was well and truly vanquished with All about My Mother, released two years later and which garnered Almodóvar the prize for Best Direction at Cannes and the first of his two Oscars. Both those films were excellent and their success was welcome reward for a filmmaker who had, until then, not always been given his critical due. His films throughout the 80s and 90s were of varying quality, of course; the truth is his output since his canonisation at the end of the latter decade has also been uneven. Not that you would know from the critical adulation, where even lugubriously disjointed melodramas such as Talk to Her and Bad Education have been acclaimed unquestioningly. To utter a dissenting voice about El Gran Pedro’s work these days is one of the great heresies of cinephilia, akin to saying unkind things in public about one’s grandmother.

I have quite liked his recent films, with The Skin I Live In, a shrewd reworking of Les yeux sans visage, one of the finest of his career, vindicating his decision to invite Antonio Banderas back into the fold after being absent from his films for a couple of decades. Banderas also appears, in a cameo along with Penelope Cruz, at the beginning of his new film I’m So Excited. That they play airport ground staff whose amorous carelessness inadvertently endangers an aircraft about to take off, gives an indication that the latest Almodóvar is not too solemn an enterprise. The film is a broadly-stroked, garishly colourful comedy set in the cabin of a plane on a flight from Madrid to Mexico City. The cabin crew (or at least those we see on screen the most) are all flamingly camp tequila-slamming Romantics, headed by flamboyant Basque Joserra (Javier Cámara), the pilot and co-pilot are bisexual and bi-curious redpectively, while the passengers include a virginal middle-aged psychic (‘my powers scare men away’) played by Lola Dueñas, a bossy in-service inspector (Cecilia Roth), a caddish heart-breaking Lothario (Guillermo Toledo) and a Bolaño-reading Mexican hit-man (Hugo Silva).

The flight gets into trouble early on when it is found wheel-blocks have got stuck in the landing gear. The cabin crew have luckily had the foresight to tranquillise all passengers in economy class so panic is averted as the plane circles endlessly above Toledo (‘La Mancha-Castilla, not Ohio’, as Joserra specifies), hoping for a runway to come free somewhere. The middle section of the film is cobbled together fairly half-heartedly, held together by a rather gratuitous song-and-dance sequence involving the Pointer Sisters’ 80s classic (hence the awful English title, which lacks the poetic pun of the original). The choreography is provided by none other than Blanca Li, who, you imagine, probably gave her instructions over the phone. It’s a curious use of heavy resources for such flimsy ends but Almodóvar is probably at a point where he can do whatever he pleases, and I’m So Excited is a bagatelle that he most likely put together on the hoof while waiting for a more substantial idea to come along – he chose not to submit it for any of the major film festivals, though, then again, he did likewise with Talk to Her or Bad Education. It’s amiable if forgetful fluff, a vibrant echo of his earlier Movida work made with more resources. Now, I wonder what the critical reaction will be…