Spain on a plane
First things first, let’s try to get past this movie’s wretched title.
Yes, multiple-Oscar-winning Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar’s flighty airborne farce features a centerpiece musical number set to the titular Pointer Sisters jam, one of the songs that made the early ’80s so memorable for those of us too young to snort coke.
Furthermore, as has been the case with several Almodóvar films, the original title of I’m So Excited! was Spanish wordplay that didn’t particularly translate into English. In this case, it was called Los amantes pasajeros, a winking combination of “passing lovers” and “passenger lovers.” Of course, none of that lessens the dread that moviegoers will experience as they approach the box office intending to say, “I’ll take two tickets to I’m So Excited!”
Even if Almodóvar’s titles don’t always translate, he’s still produced some of the most translatable foreign-language films in recent memory, and has been embraced stateside like few European masters. This broadly fun, body-fluid-soaked comedy should only increase his aura of accessibility.
The obvious first instinct is to categorize this movie as a self-reflexive throwback to Almodóvar’s “earlier, funnier” stuff, especially Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Now past 60 years old, Almodóvar has been understandably engulfed in nostalgia of late—his 2009 film Broken Embraces even more explicitly referenced Women on the Verge. Unlike that unusually pedantic failure, though, Excited! waxes nostalgic without sacrificing entertainment value.
In its barest outline, Excited! appears excessively vapid for latter-day Almodóvar, but this frothy concoction is spiked with the radical Spaniard’s unique sexual politics. Trust Almodóvar to turn what is essentially a voyage-of-the-damned ensemble (think Ship of Fools meets The V.I.P.s or Boeing Boeing) into a horny, pastel-hued, mescaline-laced pansexual satire on moral lassitude among the upper classes.
Above all, this mostly set-bound movie is an easy excuse for Almodóvar to indulge his long-dormant comedic provocateur side, as well as reunite with collaborators like Cecilia Roth, Lola Dueñas and Antonio Banderas. Even so, Excited! can’t help but feel slight, especially compared to his previous release, the sublimely unsettling The Skin I Live In.
The director warns us before the opening credits: “Everything in this film is fantasy, and bears no relation to reality.” Sure enough, the tarmac-set first sequence that introduces the central crisis is deliberately detached low comedy, derailed by distracting star cameos. We then cut to inside a plane, originally en route to Mexico but now circling over Spain, as the flight crew and first-class passengers learn that a technical malfunction won’t allow them to land safely.
The first-class passengers (the masses in coach have been drugged into submission) are a colorful lot, among them, a middle-aged soap-opera actor, a notorious dominatrix and a mob hit man. They’re unified only by their mysterious, unresolved pasts and by their desperate flight from Spain to what they hope will be a fresh start in Mexico. Impending tragedy reroutes the group back to their homeland, forcing them each to contemplate a path to salvation.
At least they do, until a trio of gay male flight attendants, the film’s strongest source of comedic inappropriateness, lace everyone’s drinks with mescaline and perform cabaret numbers until the group is incited into a sexual frenzy. Almodóvar piles on the partner-swapping complications from there, culminating in the de facto rape of a comatose male passenger by an overeager female virgin.
Beyond the outré farce, the virgin psychics and acid-dropping flight attendants, there is an acute political conscience at work. Almodóvar is saying that the corrupt lackeys of Europe’s amoral upper-class—celebrities, high-level functionaries and the people elected to sit in the cockpit and steer the ship—are literally and figuratively in bed with each other. Meanwhile, the general populace is distracted into a comalike slumber, unaware that their lives are in imminent peril.
While American moviegoers may not catch all of the stealthy political jabs hiding out among the semen and sphincter jokes, Excited! is still one of Almodóvar’s most audience-friendly films in years.