‘I’m So Excited!’ is a reminder that tact is required to make vulgarity funny

imageLos amantes pasajeros (English title: I’m So Excited!)
Written by Pedro Almodóvar
Directed by Pedro Almodóvar
Spain, 2013

It seems as though everything that could be said or written in praise of Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar has already been expressed. He is, without the shadow of a doubt, not only a critical darling, but has also earned himself a very respectable amount of  fans in the movie going public, and, lest it be overlooked, built an impressive career with stories that, either directly or otherwise, spoke about subsections of the human population that only so rarely make important or relevant appearances in film, most notably homosexuals and transvestites. Almodóvar has dabbled in a multitude of genres, from pure dramas to comedies, and as recently as 2011 body horror (The Skin I Live In). I’m So Excited! is the director’s return to pure comedy, and in flamboyant fashion at that.

A Peninsula Airlines flight, with its two pilots, Alex and Benito (Antonio de la Torre) and three gay stewards in business class, Joserra (Javier Cámara), Ulloa (Raúl Arévalo) and Fajardo (Carlos Areces), is taking off from Madrid en route for Mexico. It is quickly established that most likely due to a silly error on the part of the airport employees working on the runway (cameos that will not be disclosed here), the plane’s landing gear is malfunctioning, thus forcing the craft to fly around in circles until a nearby emergency landing can be cleared. The time spent up in the air permits the pilots, stewards and even the business class passengers, like the virgin psychic (Lola Dueñas), to let go for a while and revel in raunchy behaviour or, in some cases, face their personal demons.

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In essence, I’m So Excited! is a comedy of absurd circumstances permitting unorthodox characters to engage in absurd acts, again, given the fact that most of the action takes place on a plane. Once initial confusion amongst the airline’s employees regarding the plane’s mechanical deficiency has past and communication between them and the business class passengers has grown more informal, the director lets emotions and inhibitions run wild to say the least. Almodóvar, true to his storytelling sensibilities, does not hold back. His characters are in a position to loosen up and take full advantage of the opportunity to do just that, and considering that Almodóvar’s films are among the precious few that deal with gender and the politics of  sexual orientation to gather a wide audience, there is something to be said about that.

It seems accurate to estimate that regardless of whom one asks, few would make the case that Almodóvar’s latest consists of high brow comedy. In fairness, the director has, in recent years, completed works of drama which were extraordinarily rich in characterization, so no blame should be laid for him wanting to return to a genre which initially made him a recognizable name in world cinema. After working on such heavy material for so many years, a lot of directors would probably want to spend a small amount of time developing lighter fair. Another truth one needs to understand is that there most definitely exists a market for such material considering the staggering amount of R-rated comedies which have arrived in multiplexes for the better part of the last 15 years. At some point, whether characters are speaking in English or another tongue becomes irrelevant.

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‘Lighter fair’ is applicable not just to the subject matter but also to the film’s visual allure, which favours sharp primary colours which pop off the screen. Both the topic and the cinematography make I’m So Excited! akin to an adult cartoon rather than a live-action film. The litmus tests resides not in colour palettes or in general subject matter, but how it is all presented and what effect it creates on the individual viewer. As the late Roger Ebert argued, it is not what the movie is about, it is how it is about it. In that regard, I’m So Excited! is definitely lower tier Almodóvar. A comedy film that proudly features gay and bisexual characters is one thing, but it still needs to be funny. As already stated, the movie is more zany cartoon than any kind of depiction of reality despite the explicit references to sex and drug use, with most of the protagonists, and especially the homosexual ones, serving as mere caricatures. Comedy is the most infuriatingly subjective of genres, so when jokes do not land…they just do not land, period.

What disappoints most is how uninspired its crassness is, featuring jokes which have been told time and time again. Maybe there is some novelty to the fact that many of the characters involved in the jokes here do not conform to the sexual orientation standards the majority of films depict, yet that alone is insufficient to produce laughter. A fellatio joke remains a fellatio joke, and after a hundred of them,  the one hundred and first has slim chances of being as entertaining as the first few. When Joserra, Ulloa and Fajardo perform a dance number to I’m So Excited! from The Pointer Sisters with extreme femininity (because they are gay! Is that not hysterical?) in order to entertain the passengers, one would be forgiven for asking just how funny or worthy the director and actors thought the concept was on set.

Knowledge that Almodóvar is capable of so much better than this worsens the experience even more. On the flip side, knowledge that he is capable of making better films and has done so consistently in the past nurses optimism that his next project can be far superior. Hopefully I’m So Excited! will prove to be no more than a negligible bump in the road.

-Edgar Chaput

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