As we’ve all been told a thousand times before, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. I’m So Excited, the latest film from Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar (Volver, The Skin I Live In) also suggests that you can’t judge a film by its trailer.
The Spanish title, Los Amantes Pasajeros, a pun meaning both ‘the fleeting lovers’ and ‘the passenger lovers’, emphasises the film’s comic elements, and first glance at any of the marketing material suggests that I’m So Excited is merely a camp and farcical romp.
Take the subject matter: a group of airline stewards, all gay, turn to drink, drugs and cabaret to get through a stressful flight to Mexico City. Of course the presentation of business class stewarding team Joserra (Javier Cámara), Fajas (Carlos Areces) and Ulloa (Raúl Arévalo) does rely somewhat on stereotypes, especially when they perform The Pointer Sister’s ‘I’m So Excited’. Descriptions of some of the passengers, such as a corrupt businessman and crazed psychic also sound like archetypal characters we’ve seen countless times before. However, the film manages to be much more than recycled characters and forgettable popcorn comedy.
Once the garish (but wonderful) opening credits fade a moment of predictable klutz comedy is countered by a touching scene between airport colleagues and couple León (Antonio Banderas) and Jessie (Penélope Cruz). Regrettably these roles are only cameos, and it’s a shame that these characters remain grounded when the plane takes off.
The confined setting of the Airbus 340, and the malfunctioning landing gear which forces the plane to circle aimlessly for hours, does encourage bonds between the unrealistically sparse number of business class passengers. Most have fairly nuanced stories, and these are gradually revealed as the film progresses. The rather convenient device of a broken telephone, which means all conversations are played to the entire compartment, promotes empathy between characters. There is also some usage of monologues, in a comparable vein, though less emotively, than in John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club.
Almodóvar’s is also a much darker film than the trailer suggests, treating themes such as murder, crime, and mental illness. One of the only times we catch a glimpse of the world outside of the aeroplane has major potential to tug on the heartstrings. Passenger Ricardo Galán (Guillermo Toledo) makes a call to his ex-girlfriend Alba, and she answers from a precarious position atop a viaduct from which she was intending to jump. In a whimsical coincidence befitting a Woody Allen screenplay, when Alba drops her phone it lands in the basket of a cyclist passing under the bridge – who just so happens to be another of Ricardo’s old flames. A love triangle from the past is hinted at, but via the plane’s less-than-private phone Ricardo is able to mend old rifts.
Unlikely coupling is a theme throughout, and this is one area where the film disappoints. The stewards decide to drug the passengers with mescaline in order to subdue panic, and as a result of side effects many characters, both passengers and crew, join the mile high club. The treatment of sexual relationships is distasteful; a man repeatedly date-rapes his new wife and the psychic takes advantage of another drugged passenger.
The plot may be utterly ridiculous, and the blend of gross-out humour and more emotive moments rather odd, but I’m So Excited is engaging and entertaining throughout, with a well-judged and modest running time, unlike much cinema of today.
PHOTO/ Gary Ellwood, Tom Breugglemann