I was so excited about I’m So Excited but now I am just so disappointed. I love Pedro Almodóvar, usually. I would be his bitch any day, I’d have said, and although I’d probably still be his bitch, because you can’t hold one film against a person when they’ve made so many terrific ones, I may not be quite so wholehearted now I’ve been sold a pup. I thought this was going to be a ‘fun, screwball comedy’. I thought it was Almodóvar returning to his ‘wild comedy roots’. But it’s thin, banal, boring, unwitty and, if satirical, then poorly satirical, and poorly satire is no good to anyone. It won’t even put the kettle on. (Put the kettle on. ‘No. I’m poorly.’)
The film is almost entirely set on an aeroplane, on a Peninsula Airways flight from Madrid to Mexico, which, once airborne, is discovered to have a landing-gear fault. This means it has to circle and circle and circle until a runway capable of accommodating such an emergency is found. The plane is staffed by three gayer-than-gay male flight attendants, all closely fitting the John Inman or Larry Grayson stereotype — or Spanish equivalent — which seems rather lazy, and two boozy pilots who may be straight, may be gay, may be both. They are trying to work that out for themselves. Anyway, the economy passengers dealt with — they are all drugged to sleep, which seems wise for all concerned — the stewards set about entertaining and distracting the business-class passengers, who include a professional dominatrix, a hitman, a beautiful just married couple, a psychic who is also a virgin, a womanising soap star and an embezzling banker who is fleeing arrest.
The stewards sing for them — their lip-synch version of The Pointer Sisters’ ‘I’m So Excited’ is quite fun, I suppose — and ply them with tequila and then mescaline, an hallucinatory drug similar to LSD, if you don’t know. (No offence, but Spectator readers strike me more as tea, milk first, people than mescaline people; forgive me if I’m wrong.) Anyway, secrets are divulged, confessions are forthcoming, relationships are formed and libidos explode. There’s fellatio (a nice kind of biscuit to have with tea, if you don’t know; ask for one in any good hotel) and all sorts. Plus, the psychic finally manages to lose her virginity in a way that is meant to be light-hearted and amusing, I think, but I would actually consider rape. No consent, no condom, and one participant was unconscious. Am I being too uptight? Am I? Maybe I am. I can be, sometimes. But laugh, as it was intended I should do? No.
I know this isn’t meant to be realistic film. I know it’s meant to be unrealistic, with its bright, toy-like colours and baroque, OTT, camp characters and random coincidences. (In one of the few scenes enacted outside the plane, the soap actor calls his lover who drops the phone, which is caught by his ex-lover.) But there is nothing to hold on to. Even if a situation is unbelievable you still have to have something to believe in. But the script is limp. The gags are puerile and often concern vomiting or semen on chins. And as for the satire. Almodóvar has said the plane is a metaphor for Spanish society which, with its current political and economic problems, can be likened to a plane going round in circles, never knowing if, when or where it’s going to land. But how is this connected to what happens on board? How is this interesting, dramatically? Or is it about clamouring for sex in the face of death? I’d probably opt for the brace position in the face of death but, again, that could just be me.
This plane does eventually land, at a ghostly Spanish airport built during boom times but now deserted. When the passengers evacuate, it’s down those slides and into a layer of white foam on the tarmac. I know what the white foam means because Almodóvar has said: ‘The evacuation is carried out over a white cloud of foam which also has a vaporous, metaphoric halo, the intermediate place between sky and earth, between life and death, lies and truth, fear and strength of spirit.’ So, there you have it, and although I’d still be his bitch, like I said, we would have to have words. Quite a few of them, in fact.