It's not always guaranteed, but in a new film by Pedro Almodóvar you often hope for a convincing human predicament of some kind, with a dash of fidgety, surreal comedy thrown in. In his best work, Almodóvar makes you reflect on your own life in the light of his characters’ lives, no matter how remote their situation may be. That is one of the incredible things that he can do.
He is like a sparkling novelist in a film like Volver, teasing out human situations through his own intelligent screenplay. Volver, served so well by Penélope Cruz, is close to a masterpiece of cinema; All About My Mother is definitely one.
The Flower of My Secret, Bad Education, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, The Law of Desire, Live Flesh, Talk to Her are all outstanding films. Even a recent film like 2009's Broken Embraces was utterly absorbing, looping expertly through the hoops of the Spanish auteur's complex script.
Sad to report, I'm So Excited is something of a disappointment, if only because we know how great Almodóvar can be when he shines. Most of the film’s action takes place in business class on a plane which has taken off from Madrid’s Barajas Airport, destined for Mexico City.
This is no ordinary flight. Business class passengers barge into the cockpit to complain, the three camp cabin stewards endlessly drink and discuss their sex lives. One of them opens a portable prayer shrine to pray for the sins of the others.
Anticipating complaints about the lack of movies due to a technical fault, the stewardesses have given the economy passengers muscle relaxants in their drinks. So they spend the movie mostly conked out.
There is a much greater problem - the landing gear doesn't work - so the plane is endlessly circling above Toledo and doesn't leave Spanish airspace.
Meanwhile, it’s non-stop lurid revelations in the cabin and in the cockpit. The chief pilot is married with two kids but is also boyfriend to one of the stewards. And the co-pilot is beginning to think he may not be as hetero as he thought he was.
After cocktails of champagne and orange juice with added mescaline, the few business class passengers on board tell all. The glaring, uptight Norma (played by the great Cecilia Roth from All About My Mother) loosens up and confesses that she is a brothel madam. Another declares that he is a hit man; yet another is fleeing embarrassing business difficulties.
The one plot thread that Almodóvar might have pulled to make the film into a decent story is drawn only half-heartedly, involving the actor on board who is two-timing on terra firma. This aspect of the story is explored in a few scenes filmed on a Madrid back-street.
One of the actor’s girlfriends is taken away to a mental hospital after a suicide attempt, while the other girlfriend looks on astonished. She realises that this too could be her fate, if she lets herself be used any further by the actor. What a different movie Almodóvar would have made if only he had made this idea central to his schema. But clearly he wanted to make a caper movie instead.
Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas make cameo appearances as two ground crew staff at the beginning of I’m So Excited. Wisely, they don’t get on that plane. Still, it's Almodóvar after all, and average Almodóvar is kind of worth it, even if it's flawed genius.