Wednesday, 8 May 2013

FILM REVIEW: I'm So Excited (2013)

I’m So Excited (Los amantes pasajeros) is, ostensibly, Pedro Almodóvar’s return to comedy after a series of dark but critically lauded dramas, such as All About My Mother and Talk To Her.

A large passenger plane encounters some technical difficulties during a flight from Madrid to Mexico. Three gay air stewards (Joserra, Ulloa and Fajas played, respectively, by Javier Cámara, Raúl Arévalo and Carlos Areces) worry about how to inform the first class passengers of the potential danger – the economy class passengers have all been sedated. These include aging dominatrix Norma (Cecilia Roth), psychic Bruna (Lola Dueñas), corrupt businessman Más (José Luis Torrijo), cheating actor Ricardo Galán (Guillermo Toledo), the shady Infante (José María Yazpik) and a pair of newlyweds (Miguel Angel Silvestre and Laya Martí). The flight attendants attempt to entertain the passengers while the plane circles endlessly above Toledo, with music, drink and drugs.

The film opens with a title card, which claims that I’m So Excited bares no relation to reality. It is difficult to know how to take this, since it is possible to both under- and over-state its importance. Almodóvar has claimed that the film is a very light comedy and while the three flight attendants dance to distract the passengers from the coming crash, it is easy to draw a parallel – the film distracting its audience from a different kind of crash. And yet the film is full of allusions to Spain’s economic and political problems. There are repeated references to fraud inside the fictional Guadiana Bank and Más is flying to Mexico to escape charges of embezzlement. Similarly, in the film’s best moment, Almodóvar’s camera glides through a hauntingly empty airport, fully stocked but non-operational, a perfect symbol of the waste and corruption that preceded the recession. Also suggestive of the banking world’s response to scandal is the Pact of Silence on board the plane among the cabin crew concerning a past crime. Basically, the plane, so symbolically flying around in circles, is full of people who are in one way or another representative, if not responsible for the problems in Spain and, more generally, in the world.

However, to emphasise all of this is to take the opening title card for granted. Almodóvar’s film is full of references to the real world, but I’m So Excited is hardly a political film. It is very light and seems primarily to represent Almodóvar’s own bemusement at or apathy towards Spain’s plight. His film is full of the kinds of things that would infuriate Ken Loach and yet Almodóvar lets his characters off the hook and lightens the mood with broad comedy. The sedation of the lower class passengers is similarly ambiguous, reflecting either that the true victims in Spain are rarely heard from, that working class characters are often invisible in comedies or that Almodóvar himself is indifferent to their problems. Like most recent conservative Hollywood comedies, Almodóvar prefers to consider the vacuous lives of the rich and famous.

This may sound petty, misguided even, but these problems are thrown into sharp relief by the film’s central failing: it just isn’t funny. There are very few genuine laughs in the film and the whole thing feels strained and somewhat lazy. One dance number, to “I’m So Excited” by The Pointer Sisters, had the audience in the cinema laughing throughout, but it is such an easy laugh. It is easy to suspect that had the film not been the work of internationally acclaimed auteur Pedro Almodóvar and had instead stared Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell, with or without the recession references, it would be unanimously declared a disaster.

As a result, I’m So Excited works neither as a light comedy nor as a more serious attempt to look at the state of Spain or of Almodóvar’s generation, who flourished after the death of Franco and yet were corrupted by 2013. Ultimately, just like Broken Embraces and The Skin I Live In, it neither succeeds in terms of its generic expectations nor does it do anything interesting in subverting them. I’m So Excited is a better film than Almodóvar’s previous two – The Skin I Live In was thoroughly meaningless and entirely dull – but it is another case of a bland film with nothing to say about anything. Yet again, the main impression is that Almodóvar just can’t be bothered anymore.

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