Now boarding at Gate 39: director Pedro Almodóvar takes his audience on a giddy ride with a frivolous sex comedy, leveling out at cruising altitude for ecstatic silliness.
Almodovar's new film I'm So Excited! Is a brightly colored 60's style pop art farce set on an airplane that's full of troubled characters and has no way to land. Think Airplane! but with even more sex, drugs, and relationship jokes (yes, it's possible).
The flight in I'm So Excited starts smoothly. Too smoothly: the coach class passengers and stewardesses take muscle relaxant and are knocked-out for the duration of the flight. Then—as the plane develops a problem and must circle endlessly until it can try to crash-land—Almodóvar's motley crew responds to crisis in various ways. The co-pilot spends the film discussing whether he's straight, gay, or bi. Meanwhile, a trio of male stewards (right) romp about embodying various gay stereotypes turned up to 11, letting loose mixed drinks and dishing on their personal woes. Angry first-class passengers demand answers and call estranged lovers. Almodóvar makes jabs at machismo culture: in one scene, a bisexual character who is having an affair discovers his wife has been carrying her own lesbian affair and becomes incensed over her infidelity. Another character points out the absurdity of the man's outrage. It's all very madcap.
I'm So Excited plays like a comedy of manners, picking on the upper class for their shallow behavior and self-interest, but it never gets too critical—the tone remains fluffy and absurd. But if we take the business class and coach class divisions in the film to be symbolic, then it's telling that the lower class spends the entirety of the film drugged to complacency while the business class is full of empty-headed hysterics. Audiences can definitely also read into the portrayal of the three gay flight attendants, as Richard Brody did in the New Yorker: "With their flapping wrists and theatrical mannerisms, Almodóvar asserts that there is such a thing as gay culture, an aesthetic that arises from (but isn't reducible to) homosexuality."
But as with much of Almodovar's work, the movie hits some turbulence. Bisexuality is treated in much the same manner as it is in similar comedies: as an untrustworthy trait of a character who could really go "either way." But the most troubling sequences happen after first-class passengers drink mescaline-laden cocktails. One passenger force-feeds his wife the drink before she goes down on him. It's played up for laughs, but I felt more of a date rape vibe. Then, as more of the characters engage in ribald sex during the never-ending flight, one woman remains reluctantly chaste: a hot and bothered psychic virgin who asks passengers in mid-coitus about how to have sex. With no available partners around, she darts back to economy class and proceeds to have sex with a sleeping passenger. Up to this point, the movie had been largely inoffensive, but this scene turned me off. I know, it's a comedy, but am I supposed to be laughing at what's clearly rape? Laughing at consensual sex romps is one thing, but forcing sex on a sleeping victim makes this carefree film feel out-of-touch and callous.
Mercifully, the movie leaves behind the rapey punch lines and returns in the end to skewering the passenger's personal problems. I'm So Excited is far from perfect, but as far most summer comedies go, the film more open and accepting of various sexualities and is mostly light-hearted fun—excluding a couple profoundly distasteful scenes.