Since 1999, director Pedro Almodovar has had a fabulous run of outstanding films. From All About My Mother through to 2011′s beguiling and brilliant The Skin I Live In, Almodovar has been at the very top of his game, producing work of such consistent high quality that he has become one of the foremost filmmakers on the world stage. It is a shame then that in 2013, after hitting 6 simultaneous home runs, that I’m So Excited sees the director losing his footing and producing his first disappointing work in nearly 15 years.
I’m So Excited is set aboard a flight where a technical failure threatens the lives of passengers and the crew. While the pilots and those on the ground are trying to find a solution, the cabin crew turn their eyes to drugs to not only calm themselves down but to also face the “savage” passengers and keep them at bay while everything seems to be going wrong. The technical faults with plane are not the only issues though, as the personal complications such as issues with sex, sexuality and impending doom are pushed to the fore.
Pedro Almodovar is one of my favourite filmmakers. The Spanish director has an intriguing and beautifully open minded world view which results in some of the most original and heartfelt cinema being produced anywhere at the moment. It is also worth noting that Almodovar has grown considerably as a filmmake. He started out in his career surrounding himself by a rag bag of weird and wonderful social outcasts who were born amidst the fascist regime of Franco and enacted their own artistic resistance on the fringes of Spanish society with these post-Franco sexually liberated movies. Many of them being quite explicit yet intriguing works, they showed promise of a true talent, in his own way a Spanish John Waters. It is testament to his power and intelligence behind the camera that the renegade did cool down and, despite retaining his core motifs of transvestism, homosexuality, identity and most importantly female empowerment, he began to produce deeply thoughtful, profoundly moving and politically relevant and layered films.
It is therefore a little odd that I’m So Excited seems somewhat of a regression for Almodovar. It’s a cheeky knockabout sex comedy that is bawdy, brash and, very much like his first films, occasionally wildly misjudged. In the words of the director himself, I’m So Excited is “a light, a very light comedy” that has a politically relevant bent related to the economic downturn which is striking across Europe and specifically the harshness with which it hit Spain. Constant reference is made to this throughout the film, through plot points, prop newspapers and even locations, however, if the European economic downturn and specifically the Spanish economic downturn isn’t something you inherently know about/are interested in, then I’m So Excited is going to leave you a little cold. This is because you then rely on the comedy, and sadly the comedy doesn’t quite work, the jokes don’t land and it does become quite awkward.
The film feels like a combination of Pepi, Luci, Bom and Dark Habits, two of Almodovar’s most early works, both films attempt to bridge the gap between comedy and socio-political story and frankly, they both do it quite better than I’m So Excited. When you take into consideration the times in which the films were made, they were quite envelope pushing but still retained a spark, a wit and an edge to them which retained the interest. While here, although the sight of the three gay stewards miming and dancing to the Pointer Sisters’ record ‘I’m So Excited’ is funny, the film’s central comedy does seem a bit flat and safe and comes off as unadventurous and lazy.
It also isn’t helped by the fact that the cast is filled with a couple of recognizable Almodovar faces: Javier Camara, Cecilia Roth, Lola Duenas alongside cameos from Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz, all of whom have featured in some of Almodovar’s greatest work and only serve to remind you of the brilliance of those previous works despite their best efforts. Some of them are brilliant comedy actors too, particularly Camara who tries his best but is unable to a strike the balance between the comic and the serious that he did so beautifully with the role of Benigno in Almodovar’s Talk to Her.
That’s not to say that the film is not without its charms. For one, the bold colours, primary reds and blues, that have pervaded Almodovar’s work are bolder and brighter than ever and it is a particularly beautiful film to look at. Designed and preened to within an inch of its life, Almodovar’s idea of airline travel is something I could actually get very used to, but it is just window dressing, very well designed and constructed yes but window dressing nonetheless.
My main feeling coming out of I’m So Excited is one of tremendous disappointment, especially when you consider the last film we saw from him was the utterly genius The Skin I Live In. Admittedly, that was a more generic work but it felt consistent and of a piece within the director’s recent oeuvre. I’m So Excited, however, seems oddly out of place and a step back for the director who for the last 15 years has been producing some the greatest, most exciting work in cinema.