With his anxious parable I'm So Excited!, Pedro Almodóvar imagines a plane malfunction not as a pretext for thrills, as in most films, but as a metaphorical farce: The jet is Spain, and what we should fear for is not just the passengers' lives, but the country's.
Defective landing gear forces a jet to circle the Spanish city of Toledo, waiting for an airport to be outfitted for an emergency landing. For the sake of maintaining civility — or at least privilege — the plane's economy passengers have been drugged and rest unconscious while business class copes with the situation. That coping is facilitated by the attentions of three gay flight attendants, Joserra (Javier Camara), Fajas (Carlos Areces), and Ulloa (Raul Arevalo), who ply the passengers with mescaline-laced cocktails and, in the purest moment of camp here, lip-sync to the Pointer Sisters song that gives the film its title. "We wanted to distract you," one explains afterward. It's surprisingly poignant: On a plane (or in a country) headed for disaster, what recourse is there but diversion?
This has been billed as Almodóvar's return to the comedies of his youth, but he has not entirely abandoned the high-stakes melodrama that's lately served him so well. I'm So Excited! has its fair share of attempted suicides, lovers' quarrels, and depressives, not to mention a hitman — and a clairvoyant (Lola Duenas) who sniffs him out: "I've been smelling death since the start of the trip," she quips. "At first I thought it was just the farts." Melodrama, of course, dilutes the potency of humor, and the film's comedy is further impeded by its often halfhearted execution. Screwball works best when characters pinball zingers back and forth, but too many talky scenes here are performed moderato. And Almodóvar's raunchy humor has lost some of its shock value: A sequence in which the clairvoyant has her way with an unconscious passenger is meant to have the audience in fits, but when even mainstream filmgoers have long been down with watching a guy hump a pie, there's only so much that can surprise.
The parable is always a tricky narrative design, since the obvious distance between what the story's "about" (a potential plane crash) and what it's really about (Spain's future) can stanch the development of tension. Is the audience genuinely meant to fear this jet may go down? Almodóvar's canted angles and bright-pastel decor scream "farce." Since there's no anxiety regarding the plane's fate, Almodóvar is obliged to find some other element to hold the audience in thrall. While his impassioned, manic vacillation between melodrama and screwball comedy is charming in its idiosyncratic attempt to blend wholly disparate narrative tones, he never quite finds the golden ratio between the film's zaniness and dramatics. Ultimately, I'm So Excited! is characterized by a distinct brand of unsuccessful yet ambitious storytelling, the kind often found in minor works by major masters.