ZACHARY HAINES ’14
Internationally acclaimed director Pedro Almodovar has always taken a rather tongue-in-cheek approach to melodrama: film such as 2007’s Volver, starring Penelope Cruz, and 2002’s Talk to Her (2002) – which received the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay – are so equally charged with comedy and grim severity that it is unclear whether laughter or tears constitute the appropriate response. This year, however, the absurdly comic half of Almodovar’s creative genius has finally won out over the sensitive dramatist, producing such profoundly weird results that critics eve
“I’m So Excited!” begins on a strip of tarmac in Madrid. Jessica (Penelope Cruz) reveals to Leon (Antonio Banderas) that she is pregnant, and he is about to become a father; in the midst of rejoicing, the two forget to inspect the landing gear of Flight 2549. This scene closes with the image of the spiraling axel of the plane’s propeller, a menacing Hitchcockian homage.
As Flight 2549 ascends, we are introduced to the bizarre cast of characters on board: Norma (Cecilia Roth), a notorious professional dominatrix who could blackmail half the Spanish bureaucracy with her arsenal of clandestinely taped videos; Bruna (Lola Duena), a virgin and self-professed psychic, who vomits when impending death draws near; Senor Mas (Jose Luis Torrijo), a banker who is fleeing the country to avoid an embezzlement scandal; and the three flight attendants – Fajas (Carlos Areces), Joserra (Javier Camara), and Ulloa (Raul Arevalo) – who act, as one critic said, as a “campy Greek chorus.”
Flight 2549 cannot land: the landing gear is jammed and, if the pilots (Hugo de Silva and Antonio de la Torre) cannot secure a runway, the plane will go down. However, this issue takes a backseat to the drama onboard: confronted with the possibility of a fiery end, the passengers act on their darkest passions, lose all inhibitions, confront old flames and ignite new ones. The ensuing events include a mescaline-induced sex romp in the middle of business class and a choreographed tribute to the Pointer Sisters, to name a few highlights. The peril looses its potency as this onslaught of weirdness takes center stage.
It is ironic that the most entertaining aspects of “I’m So Excited!” contribute to the film’s overall shortcoming: Almodovar is too aggressive in his hunt for the absurd and sacrifices cohesion as a result. Don’t get me wrong: some of the film’s vignette-like excursions are undeniably enjoyable: the aforementioned Pointer Sisters homage is enough reason to see the film in my opinion. However, once Almodovar’s fierce rejection of subtlety becomes apparent, the film quickly becomes tiresome.
I found myself missing the balance that made previous Almodovar films so uniquely ambivalent. I craved the restraint and versatility he demonstrated in Volver, where he used his wicked sense of humor sparingly enough to cut the bitterness that would have otherwise overwhelmed the film. I want to discover a dynamic character among the ensemble cast who could tow the line between comic levity and dramatic gravity, much like Volver’s Raimunda (the role for which Penelope Cruz received her first Academy Award nomination), but found the ensemble cast of I’m So Excited! sadly lacking.
Cruelly, the Hitchcockian spiral, which reflects the roundabout course of Flight 2549, also unfavorably mirrors the film’s plot. The myriad subplots circle around and around, never leading anywhere fruitful. In the end, everybody is happy; except, in my case, the viewer. With such a diverse array of characters, Almodovar had all the ingredients for funnier, smarter, and more engaging film; if only more care had been given to these characters, their stories, and their potential for interaction under the given circumstances, not just their capacity for quirky behavior.
Despite the objections just raised, there is something to be said for the film’s unabashed campiness; and at a brief eighty-eight minutes, I’m So Excited! is not require much of a commitment from its audience – except, that is, a commitment to Almodovar’s uncompromising vision.