Few directors have attained the kind of monolithic status that surrounds Pedro Almodovar. Since his feature debut in 1980, the Spanish auteur has come to be associated with an exaggerated style, kitsch melodrama, social satire and female heroism all his own. In truth, it’s almost formulaic. You see loud colors — it’s Almodovar. You see women on the verge of a breakdown — it’s Almodovar. You see Penelope Cruz — it’s Almodovar. But in recent years, it had seemed the director was branching into darker territory, with a traumatic and unorthodox telling of child molestation in “Bad Education” (2004) or the cruel vanity of plastic surgery seen in “The Skin I Live In” (2011). His latest, “I’m So Excited,” is not one in this vein. This looks like classic Almodovar but feels like a cheap facsimile.
Often, the stories Almodovar tells are as rich and full of intrigue as the aesthetic palettes he creates, but that is just not the case for “I’m So Excited.” Here, we find a cast of mysterious strangers, haphazardly thrown onto a malfunctioning aircraft headed for Mexico City. There are the three over-the-top camp flight attendants who spend the majority of the film spiking the passengers’ drinks with narcotics and dancing to the Pointer Sisters. There is an anxious pilot, hesitant to accept his sexuality. And then there’s the over-the-hill virgin who straight up rapes an unconscious man in coach. Some mysteries are revealed; some are not. The plane flies around a bit, and that’s it — a sex-crazed and drug-fueled romp that has less zest for life than it does orange zest and mescaline.
Or is it? It’s difficult to know with Almodovar whether this is purely a vanity project or a project about vanity and the illusion of class, materialism and first impressions. When I spoke with three of the cast members, the attitude seemed somewhere in between. For Javier Camara, who plays one of the flamboyant flight attendants, “I’m So Excited” is a film “for free people to break the rules and break the prejudice.” For Miguel Angel Silvestre, who portrays a new husband, the movie “gave him a chance to be himself.” Camara even mentioned San Francisco as the perfect city for this film, as it too is “an example of freedom.” For them, this was a cinematic expression of openness linked to sexual candor and the right to have a good time.
But how free, how provocative or how open is this film? The characters are stuck in an airborne, aluminum deus ex machina, spinning in circles. The movie’s structure and limited setting dictate, like Hitchcock’s “Rope,” an escalating tension and explosive catharsis where characters evolve or devolve the deeper the film plunges.
We do get some genuine character moments. Cecilia Roth (an Almodovar veteran) dominates the scene wherein we learn of her sensual, politically tinged past. Hugo Silva, as the closeted married pilot, manages to make a minor character a hero when he accepts his homosexuality proudly. The rest of the lot gets drowned out by sloppy tangents and a pace that drags slower than the stalled plane in question.
What happened? That is the question that this film provokes. You can ask, on the surface, what happened to these characters. You can inquire, “What happened to this film, to Almodovar, to substance over style?” If pressed, you could possibly suggest, “What has happened to Spanish culture in the past 20 years? Has it become less open, more repressed?” Or, you could just say, as many viewers and the characters in the film — after several bouts of mescaline and alcohol — would: “What the fuck happened?” Because, for its admirable ambition, “I’m So Excited” is utterly forgettable.