Ah, the airplane comedy. A tried and true staple of the film industry ever since Airplane! in 1980–with a brief awkward phase post-9/11–Pedro Almodóvar’s I’m So Excited! proves that plane crash potential can still be hilarious. As the follow-up to 2011′s La Piel Que Abito (The Skin I Live In), a highly controversial, sensational film involving an unwanted gender conversion, I’m So Excited! comes as something of a surprise. The Spanish title of the film, Los Amantes Pasajeros–meaning both “the fleeting lovers” and “the passenger lovers”–indicates a plotline ripe for farcical character relationships. As Almodóvar is a consummate master at capturing the absurd, particularly with regard to human sexuality, the comedic timing of I’m So Excited! never misses a beat.
Opening with cameos by Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz as León and Jessica, two airline employees who get distracted from the tasks of managing the plane’s undercarriage. After Jessica swerves her carful of luggage to avoid crashing into another airline employee, her husband, León, rushes over to her to assure she hasn’t been harmed. It then comes to light that she’s pregnant, drawing even more attention away from ensuring the security of the plane. The captain of the plane, Alex Acero (Antonio de la Torre), is thus horrified to learn that he is flying the aircraft with faulty brakes. The flight attendants (or stewards, as they’re so politically incorrectly referred to) resolve to drug the economy class passengers–calling it Economy Class Syndrome–so that they won’t ask any questions. This leaves only the business class passengers to deal with. Joserra (Javier Cámara), the “chief steward,” is the first to display signs of a breakdown, especially with regard to his fear of Norma Boss (Cecilia Roth), a widely known call girl, with a penchant for complaining and general divadom.
Joserra’s fellow stewards, Ulloa (Raúl Arévalo), and Fajardo a.k.a. Fajas (Carlos Areces), are in a similar k-hole mode, choosing to combat thoughts of death by drinking heavily and spiking their drinks with mescaline from a passenger they refer to as The Groom (Miguel Ángel Silvestre)–as he is aboard the plane with his new wife. Others among the still conscious passengers include a psychic woman named Bruna (Lola Dueñas), who is convinced that she can smell death everywhere, a B-rate actor named Ricardo Galán (Guillermo Toledo), a corrupt banker fleeing the country named Sr. Más (José Luis Torrijo), a mysterious “financial adviser” named Infante (José María Yazpik) and Benito Morón (Hugo Silva), the sexually confused co-pilot. With such a zany, neurotic mix of characters, it’s easy to understand how a scene of the three flight attendants dancing to a perfectly choreographed “I’m So Excited” by the Pointer Sisters seems completely normal.
Although Almodovar has been quoted as saying “it’s my gayest film ever,” there is far more to this movie than sexuality and queer jokes. I’m So Excited! mirrors the political climate of Spain. The economic downturn in Spain has long been an issue–so much so that nearly a quarter of Spaniards are unemployed. After all, it’s no coincidence that the aesthetic of Almodovar’s film is decidedly 70s porno; and, as we all know, the 70s were one of the worst economic periods for most countries. Spain’s current prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, has stated that the financial crisis that has occurred during his administration was impending long before he took office. As for the characters in the film, they each seem affected by some sort of event that relates back to government corruption and inefficacy.
The metaphor of a plane circling sans any specific direction with no place to land is also a bit too real when it comes to Spanish government analogies. In addition, the separation between the classes is extremely poignant–with the business class passengers engaging in decadent debauchery and the economy class passengers slipping in and out of a carefully calculated stupor. And so, what I’m So Excited! proves with regard to Almodovar is that, no matter how “light-hearted” his films may appear, there is always something deeper and more meaningful beneath the surface.