FilmJuice have my review of Pedro Almodovar’s thoroughly underwhelming comedy I’m So Excited!
When I’m So Excited! was released earlier this year, I was sceptical. I was sceptical despite my enduring love for Almodovar’s Bad Education and despite the fact that Sight & Sound magazine made a massive fuss over it. I was sceptical because I thought (and continue to think) that this film is fundamentally flawed at a conceptual level. In fact, I don’t think that anyone could make a decent film out of this particular set of ideas.
Set predominantly on a flight from Spain to Mexico, the film follows the crew and first class passengers as they desperately try to keep their minds off the fact that their plane’s landing gear is stuck and they will soon be making an emergency landing. The cabin crew are an engaging bunch of booze and pill-chugging reprobates while the passengers are a bunch of wealthy people with secrets including a professional dominatrix, a virgin psychic who reads the future by groping men’s groins and an actor with an emotionally unstable girlfriend. Camp as general synod, the crew flirt outrageously, talk about their overly-complicated lovelives and drug the passengers in an effort to help them open up emotionally and sexually. There are many double entendres and a dance number. It’s not very funny. In fact… it’s more than a little bit embarrassing despite the predictably wonderful art direction and design.
I’m So Excited is beautifully designed and effortlessly directed but without any real ideas to explore or an appropriately funny script, the film drags terribly from one largely unfunny and unsubstantial set piece to the next. Even worse, Almodovar struggles to control the tone of his own film meaning that campy slapstick and raunchy dialogue unpredictably collapse into (admittedly well-realised) inserts about an actor getting back together with his ex-girlfriend when his current girlfriend is committed for attempting suicide. These wild changes of tone and focus not only rob the film of any sense of comedic momentum, they also draw attention to the weakness of the writing and the lack of care and attention that went into deciding what to keep and what to cut prior to release. Why bother including an insert about an actor’s love life when the results are neither funny nor related to anything else in the film? The most logical answer is that it amused the director to include it and that is the living definition of creative self-indulgence.
My initial scepticism about I’m So Excited! is derived from three different areas:
Firstly, if you make a comedy about a plane flight then you are inviting comparisons with Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker and Zucker’s Airplane! one of the most enduring and influential comedy films of the thirty five years. If your film is not at least as funny as Airplane! or Airplane 2 then chances are that your film will disappoint. Making a comedy set on a plane is as short-sighted and arrogant as writing a sitcom set in a Torquay hotel. Why invite that comparison?
Secondly, the publicity for this film emphasised both the campiness of the comedy and the fact that it featured a (not particularly funny or well executed) dance routine. This immediately put me in mind of Britain’s entry into the 2007 Eurovision Song Contest. If the idea of camp and raunchy air cabin crew can’t sustain a 3-minute pop song, why would it support a 90-minute film?
Thirdly, I think the sexual politics of this type of comedy are completely out of step with the times. Back in the early 1970s, Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft began production of a situation comedy with a very similar comedic aesthetic. Set in a department store and called Are You Being Served?, the sitcom was heavy on the double-entendres and featured a career-defining performance by John Inman as the magnificently camp Mr Humphyrs. The series’ most famous running joke involved Molly Sugden’s aging shop assistant Mrs Slocombe making frequent allusions to the state of her ‘pussy’. One of the reasons why Are You Being Served? seems out of date is that the series uses double-entendres as a way of ‘innocently’ alluding to taboo topics such as the sex-lives of gay men and the genitals of elderly shop assistants. However, as time has moved on and social mores have shifted, the idea of older women having sex lives is no longer taboo and so Molly Sugden complaining about having to thaw out her pussy now seems more like TMI than LOL. I would argue that something very similar has happened regarding the depiction of GLBT people in popular culture. Back in the 1970s, gay people were expected to be invisible and so a flamboyantly camp man making allusions to his sex life was so transgressive that people reacted to Mr Humphyrs as though they were in on some sort of elaborate joke at the BBC’s expense. However, forty years later and openly gay men are now fairly common in TV and film and so there’s no reason to react to anything they say as some sort of transgressive utterance that has been secreted past the men upstairs. As I ask in my review, what is so funny about a male pilot having sex with one of the male cabin crew? what is so funny about an ostensibly straight man exploring his own sexuality by sucking a cock? There is nothing inherently funny about the idea of two men having sex so why are we expected to laugh? Camp was a part of many gay lives for a very long time but that time has now passed… I could understand a nostalgic exploration of a time when gay men were obliged to hide in plain sight by camping it up but playing that campness for laughs now? in the 21st Century? Doesn’t work. The times they have-a-changed.