Arts & Events
I'm So Excited! Almodóvar at Cruising Altitude—
Opens at Berkeley's Rialto Elmwood theater on July 5.
Would I be the first to characterize Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar as the Gay Woody Allen?
The two directors have much in common. Like Allen's Midnight in Paris and From Rome with Love, Almodóvar's latest, I'm So Excited, is a travelogue filled with a dozen colorfully dysfunctional and self-absorbed characters who are thrown together by chance and spend more than an hour of screen-time furiously fussing and yammering at one another in a torrent of nonstop nuttiness.
With both Almodóvar and Allen, the fuel that propels the exercise is overtly sexual. In Allen's films the sexual tension is hetero-neurotic. In Almodóvar's films, the characters are unrepressed, gay, straight, bent and bi. In both cases, the result is a cinematic comedy of eros. If you need more proof that these two directors are twin souls, look no further than the tribute casting of Penelope Cruz as a constant in both director's work. And, like Woody's From Rome with Love (which features Cruz), Almodóvar's latest also includes a musical centerpiece.
Almodovar's film takes off with a 1950's-style animated intro as a piece of cartoon luggage progresses through airport check-in, headed for an exotic location. This time, however, the destination isn't Paris or Rome -- it's the interior of a commercial airliner.
It's not for nothing that Almodóvar fits his drama into the confines of a commercial jet. The long, tubular planes (owned by the suggestively named Península Airlines) are lovingly photographed on the tarmac and in the air.
But there's a problem. The plane is stalled in mid-air by a landing gear failure that is forcing the pilots to circle endlessly while awaiting instructions from ground control.
The hapless all-male crew (consisting of two macho pilots and three stewards) strives to avoid panic by keeping the passengers in the dark about the danger. The three flight attendants are somewhat, well… flighty. They bicker and spar endlessly, tossing of mini-rants, slams, disses and humblebrags.
The manly pilots, hunkered down in their hallowed "cockpit," try to maintain their hunkish cool but, as the hours roll on, they begin to confess to certain unspoken urges. In Almodóvar's world, it seems as if three-fifths of the population is openly gay while another fifth is either gar or bi – they just don't know it yet.
While the pilots kick back behind the windows of their metallic cabin (plowing through the skies like a phallic missile), the flight attendants are busy warding off panic by sucking (marijuana) joints and knocking back shot-after-shot of whiskey.
In order to keep the passengers calm, the flight stewards have proactively knocked out everyone in coach by spiking their complimentary drinks with sleeping pills.
For some reason, the first class passengers are allowed to remain conscious. Oh! I know the reason: If everyone was asleep, there wouldn't be much of a movie, would there?
The half-dozen still-conscious passengers (including a fugitive businessman, a hunted dominatrix, a haunted actor, and a strange woman who "sees things") are set free to indulge in a cacophony of ridiculous conversations -- all pursued with laughable seriousness.
One serious story line involves the actor's broken affair with a tempestuous, suicidal young woman and his potential "last call" to set things right. There is a great horror-to-humor moment where a potential suicide is interrupted by a ring-tone but what happens next caused me to embarrass myself. In a roomful of professional movie reviewers, I was the only one to lurch from my seat, yelling "God, no! No!"
The high-flying alcohol-fueled drama grows even kinkier when a male passenger confides that he's booty-smuggled some mescaline onboard the plane. Orgies ensue, with one drugged couple in coach copulating half-consciously while another zonked-out passenger is used as living dildo by a 40-year-old female virgin. Wild enough for you? Well, wait, there's more.
Almodóvar serves up the first Big Screen comedy cum-swap since Ben Stiller's jizz served to stiffen Cameron Diaz' pompador in Something About Mary. But Almodómar makes screen history with what I believe is the first male-to-male cum-swap moment. (It's just a quick little bit of business. Blink and you might miss it. Some folk may wish to blink so they do miss it.)
The big set piece (and the movie's titular pay-off) comes when the sloshed stewards suddenly break into an extended rendition of the Pointer Sisters' disco hit, "I'm So Excited." Off they go, prancing down the aisles and sashaying 'tween the seats. Nevermind that most of their audience is comatose from overdose. This eruption of gay overkill used to be box-office gold – gaudy and irresistible fun. But, I gotta say it: this routine no longer works for me. It's become an über-gay sterotype – all this familiar hip-twitching, bun-thrusting, fanny-slapping, eye-rolling Betty-Boopish over-the-top nonsense now comes across as simply over-the-hill. Seen it. Let's move on.
Of course, the story can't remain up-in-the-air forever. This gives Almodóvar an opening to stage the lowest-budget crash scene in film history. In an extended and strangely affecting scene, the crash-landing unfolds entirely off-screen. As the camera pans slowly across the polished surfaces of an eerily empty air terminal, we hear the sounds of the plane as it collides with the earth and rumble-skitters down the runway. It's as memorable as a Gene Krupa drum solo – a sound engineer's dream assignment.
Everyone survives and the film climaxes – literally – in a sea of fire-suppressant foam that's sprayed over the tarmac, engulfing the fleeing passengers in a knee-high tide of white froth.
This is what you get with Almodóvar. And if that's what you're looking for, "I'm So Excited" won't disappoint.