In the Chekhov short story “The Exclamation Mark,” a civil servant who’s reproached for his punctuation realizes that he has never used an exclamation mark in his 40 years of service. “This unconscious orthography of yours is a reflex, it’s completely worthless,” his accuser coolly concludes. “A mechanical activity and nothing more.” The same charge can be levied against the punctuation that hopefully caps the title of Pedro Almodovar’s I’m So Excited! Worse yet, the same can be said of this airless, uninvolving movie.
Set largely aboard a plane, it opens promisingly with a disclaimer that the movie bears no relation to reality, and with playful cameos from Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas as airport workers. Regrettably, these two turn out to be just the warm-up act and, after some runway slapstick and a seemingly ritualistic nod to Hitchcock’s Vertigo, the focus shifts inside Peninsula Flight 2549, which is set to fly from Madrid to Mexico City. It takes off just fine. But because of technical malfunction, the plane - in what becomes a regrettably apt, increasingly awkward metaphor for the movie itself - is soon circling above nearby Toledo, going nowhere fast.
It takes a while to realize that the circle is a dead end because Almodovar begins by throwing so many silly, pretty bits out, including the three campy, vampy attendants (Javier Camara, Carlos Areces, Raul Arevalo) in business class, where mostof the story unwinds. The hordes in steerage have been drugged to manage the stress of “economy class syndrome,” a condition that, in addition to being funny (and true), limits the awake passengers to the six in business class. These are newlyweds (Miguel Angel Silvestre and Laya Marti); a banker, Mr. Mas (Jose Luis Torrijo); an actor, Ricardo (Guillermo Toledo), juggling several grounded lovers; a mustachioed mystery man,Infante (Jose Maria Yazpik); and, this being Almodovar, a famous dominatrix, Norma (Cecilia Roth).
Another passenger, a self-described psychic and virgin, Bruna (Lola Duenas), wanders in from economy to join business class. There, the frisky flight attendants rule the roost, though for much of the time they mostly just mix and guzzle drinks, gossip about everyone else and serve as a kind of bawdy, sort of naughty, progressively more belabored and unfunny gay Greek chorus. Every so often the focus shifts to the cockpit, where the pilot,Alex (Antonio de la Torre), and co-pilot, Benito (Hugo Silva), in between fiddling with the instrument panel and talking to ground control, throw back drinks, trade sex talk and have trysts while everyone else runs in circles and the plane continues to go nowhere. Around and around they go or, as Arthur Schnitzler would have put it, ronde and ronde.
It takes a while to give up on the movie, partly because of the faith Almodovar commands. There’s something reassuring, for instance, about the circularity that he introduces with the Vertigo allusion (an image of the jet engine’s spinning blades) and the loops that the plane traces in the air. The circularity suggests a pattern which, inturn, suggests that as the story unwinds, some larger point or meaning - narrative, formal, conceptual, philosophical, aesthetic - will emerge, helping to make sense out of the busily whirring parts, or at least yield a satisfying payoff.A movie may not make sense on first or even second viewing, but what often matters, to borrow an image from Almodovar, is the journey - not the destination.
Here, though, the journey generally drags because the spinning characters, with their tired jokes and familiar melodramas, soon feel so mechanical, like the automated parts in an Almodovar machine. Now and again, of course, something does pop - a comical face, a bright laugh, a delightfully smutty joke, the flowers splashed across the dress of one woman and the bright red painted on the trembling lips of another - but time and again they pop individually rather than forming a coherent, sustaining gestalt. The dress and those lips appear courtesy of Blanca Suarez and Paz Vega, who, seen in brief cutaways during some phone conversations, let in some much-needed air, offering glimpses of a world beyond a plane that has become a prison.
I’m So Excited!
82 Cast: Antonio de la Torre, Hugo Silva, Javier Camara, Carlos Areces, Raul Arevalo, Penelope Cruz, Antonio Banderas, Miguel Angel Silvestre, Laya Marti, Guillermo Toledo Director: Pedro Almodovar Rating: R, for strong sexual content including crude references, and drug use Running time: 95 minutes In Spanish, with English subtitles.
MovieStyle, Pages 36 on 08/09/2013
Print Headline: I’m So Excited