The passengers and flight crew put their baggage — and their inhibitions — in the overhead compartments in Pedro Almodóvar's airborne romp I'm So Excited. This eccentric combination of frothy comedy and disaster film depends on some thin characterizations, but the flamboyant Spanish director's trademark rich color scheme pops as brightly as ever.
Almodóvar earned international esteem with such rich, deeply emotional films as All About My Mother and Talk To Her, but more recently, he's scaled back his ambitions to focus on film homages through a prism of sexuality and gender politics. His previous feature, The Skin I Live In, starred Antonio Banderas in a transgender spin on a mad-scientist horror story. I'm So Excited plays like the lightest possible satire of Airport and other soap-operatic air travel melodramas. I'm So Excited even begins with an animated credit sequence that riffs on the airport-based titles of Catch Me If You Can.
A cute prologue featuring cameos from two beloved Almodóvar veterans sets up the film's tendency to find the intersections of sex, death, and fate, when a minidrama between two baggage handlers sabotages the landing gear of a Peninsula Airlines airplane. After an hour and a half into the Mexico-bound flight, we follow three gay stewards as they gossip and squabble over alcohol consumption.
Only gradually do the five passengers in business class – and the audience – realize that the plane has a technical problem and has been circling Spain to find an open runway for an emergency landing. The crowd of travelers packed into economy class sleep soundly, because, as one steward explains: "The stewardesses gave them a muscle relaxant because of Economy Class Syndrome."
I'm So Excited is not intended to accurately depict air travel emergency procedures (at least, I hope not). At one point, the stewards try to raise the spirits of the conscious passengers with a campy lip-synch of the eponymous hit by the Pointer Sisters in a spirited, at times deliberately awkward interlude. When the stewards mix Valencia Cocktails laced with mescaline, the film turns into an almost Shakespearean comedy of romance and transformation — not Much Ado About Nothing but Much Ado Over Toledo.
Almodóvar crowds the film with quirky characters, including a hard-drinking head steward who lacks the nerve to lie, as well as a straight pilot and bi co-pilot who may be more gay than they let on. The two most memorable performances come from All About My Mother's Cecilia Roth as the wealthy queen of an empire based on sexual kinks and Lola Dueñas as a self-proclaimed psychic who predicts she'll finally lose her virginity on the flight. While some of the characters take the potential brush with death to push their sexual boundaries, others contact their loved ones. In a story detour that takes place on land, a soap opera star calls one distraught ex-girlfriend only to end up reconnecting with another.
I'm So Excited unspools so many plots that focus so much on sex, booze, and drugs that the film ultimately feels less substantial than the director's other explorations of human desire. But if there's any international filmmaker who can get away with making trifles, it's Almodóvar, who suffused I'm So Excited with luminous colors, unabashed eroticism, and warm regard for his often foolish characters. I'm So Excited feels less like a full meal than an in-flight snack, but it leaves you satisfied.