“Give ’em sex and booze and they’ll be happy,” says a flight attendant midway through Pedro Almodóvar’s diverting pop-art bauble I’m So Excited. By extension, this oft-repeated idea oozes as a credo directed at the audience throughout the rompy proceedings, firmly placing the “relief” in comic relief and the “cock” in cockpit. Charting a drug- and sex-fueled hedonistic trip through the sky, the brazenly buffoonish farce represents a minor step back for the Spanish auteur following the slow-building complexity of The Skin I Live In, but an amiable reprieve after the interminable self-reflexivity of Broken Embraces. What Jeff Daniel’s pompous patriarch from The Squid and the Whale might call “minor Almodóvar,” I’m So Excited is a rather weightless flight of fancy by design: a haphazard melding of sex- and death-themed vignettes that involves toking, snorting, and blowing aboard an aircraft in crisis mode.
A technical failure with the landing gear strands Peninsula Flight 2549—headed from Spain to Mexico City—in the air, forcing the plane to fly in circles until a safe descent can be guaranteed. With everyone in coach knocked out on barbiturate-spiked beverages (a remedy for “economy class syndrome,” the first nod at an embedded sneer toward the unfair treatment of lower classes), only the crew and first-class travelers remain awake and, due to a loose-lipped steward, aware of the panicky situation. Among the wealthier passengers are a death-sensing psychic virgin, an S&M matron with a high-class clientele, a famous lothario actor, hung-over newlyweds, an uptight banker, and a swarthy, sunglasses-clad mystery man with his nose in Roberto Bolaño’s 2666. Peninsula is an apt name for the airline, as its patrons seem to exist on their own semi-islands of experience, only tenuously connected to their surroundings. In hopes of alleviating anxiety, the über-fey flight attendants mix up a batch of mescaline-infused Valencia cocktails, and a deluge of fear confessionals and orgiastic fluid-swapping commences.
Now loosened up, the suddenly candid characters elaborate on their backstories, and Almodóvar captures the giddy curiosity one feels from pondering the potential lives of others on public transportation. With shared personal histories slowly becoming clear, Almodóvar relies heavily on his typical telenovela tropes and soapy soliloquies to further imbue the proceedings with an air of absurdity. The filmmaker is clearly aware of the space limitations, with only one subplot existing outside the aircraft (a lame romantic farce between the actor on the plane and his two land-bound lovers), and yet he uses the cloistered setting, wholly lacking in privacy, to both stifling and liberating effect.
I’m So Excited isn’t only interested in the kaleidoscope of put-upon personalities, though, as the undercurrent of social commentary relating to the corruption of the banking industry occasionally surfaces. A passenger reads a paper with the bold headline “The Top 10 Financial Scandals” and the crew discovers that the La Mancha airport is a money-sucking swindle, but these remain shallow signifiers amid an environment Almodóvar evokes to reflect the need for pleasure to overcome distress. There’s a flimsiness to the metaphorical trappings, but Almodóvar doesn’t force them with a heavy hand; it’s as if the front-and-center lascivious lunacy rejects any depth that Almodóvar attempts to apply. In a way, the imperviousness to meaningfulness is refreshing, and it helps that much of I’m So Excited is damn fun. It’s all very broad, and the actors are more than up to the task of mugging for the camera, but Almodóvar knows how to throw a party—lending a clumsy conviviality to scenes that play off the dynamic of the bumbling flight crew and passengers.
The film channels the joy of comedic catharsis amid crisis even in its conversations about sex and one song-and-dance number (the highlight, scored to the complete titular song by the Pointer Sisters), as if slowly huffing a hydrogen balloon without releasing all its air too soon—even if the film’s final moments flatline. Despite occasionally feeling like an overdose on uppers, I’m So Excited mostly maintains a pleasant high; it revels in therapeutic and naughty feel-goodery, with a constantly pivoting narrative that searches for ways to placate the dread of a potentially fatal climax. While the film possesses the depth of an in-flight magazine, it’s equipped with some fabulously flippant one-liners (such as “With a bisexual you can never be too sure”). Although the perpetual excitement occasionally feels contrived, the actors’ infectious buoyancy and commitment to campiness keep the whole affair from crashing to the ground.