Camper than a Thai ladyboy drinking Babycham and watching Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert in the bar at Bognor Regis Butlins and featuring practically every actor he’s ever worked with (barring Victoria Abril and Carmen Maura), how much you enjoy Pedro Almodovar’s frothy I’m So Excited might depend on whether you’ve been waiting 17 years for a feature version of Scottish air steward sit-com The High Life.
Playing like a polari version of Airplane!, I’m So Excited marks a not altogether welcome return for Almodovar to the high camp comedy of Women On The Verge Of a Nervous Breakdown and Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! after darker fare like Bad Education and The Skin I Live In. After an accident at take-off which disables the landing gear, things look dark for the passengers and crew of the Peninsula Airways flight to Mexico. There’s a good chance the plane will break apart and explode on landing and there’s nothing for the three gayest air stewards in the world (Javier Cámara, Raúl Arévalo and Carlos Areces) to do but mix up and dispense there own special cocktail (orange juice, champagne, gin and mescaline) to the Business Class passengers under their care who include a middle aged psychic desperate to lose her virginity (Lola Duenes), an aging dominatrix (Cecilia Roth), a disgraced banker (José Luis Torrijo), a hitman, a honeymooning couple and an actor (Guillermo Toledo) with a complicated love life. As the passengers relax and come to terms with their impending doom, truths are shared, inhibitions are shed, the Mile High Club is joined and the onboard crew entertain with their own lip-synch homage to Donna Summer.
Whether you choose to see I’m So Excited as a rather heavy-handed metaphor for a rudderless Spain trying to navigate the financial crisis – the doomed plane flying in circles, only the privileged business class matter the stewards having drugged everyone in Economy – or as a light, frothy farce in the style of Almodovar’s films of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s will probably depend on your tolerance for lazy gags about sex and farting but it’s hard not to feel disappointed by the film. It’s funny but not that funny and the taboo-busting approach to sex and sexuality that made films like Labyrinth Of Passion, Law Of Desire, Matador and Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! so groundbreaking and exciting now just feels a little superfluous, an excuse for cheerfully vulgar semen jokes and predictably fluid sexual encounters. It’s a somewhat shrill sex farce with cartoonish rutting and a disappointing lack of nudity or transgression and the scene where a female character straddles and rides to orgasm a sleeping male member (fnar fnar) of Economy feels a little ill-judged. Is it a comment on Spain’s business class raping the slumbering common man or just a bawdy bad joke? Probably both but swap the sexes round and you have a much more sinister scene.
I’m So Excited is best viewed as a reunion of Almodovar’s alumni, showcasing the talents of actors like Cecilia Roth, Lola Duendes, Javier Camara and Bianca Suarez with amusing cameos from muses Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas and a haunting appearance from Paz Vega. The actors are clearly enjoying themselves (perhaps more so than the audience) and Camara in particular shines as the alcoholic chief steward juggling disgruntled passengers and an affair with the closeted pilot.
Bawdy, vulgar and merely chucklesome, I’m So Excited feels more like a loving but tired homage to Almodovar than Almodovar himself, a screwball comedy that lacks balls. It’s an entertaining, fluffy piece of escapism fans of Almodovar will love but anyone who doesn’t find the spectacle of a trio of middle aged queens dancing and lip-synching to Donna Summer’s I’m So Excited pant-wettingly hilarious might find themselves jet-lagged by the end. “Oh deary me!” as Alan Cumming might say.