KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

Film, Reviews

Carry On Flying: Pedro Almodóvar’s I’m So Excited

by Kate Harper , September 24, 2013Leave a comment

I'm So Excited

 

I’m So Excited is Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar’s twentieth feature film as writer and director, and in some ways represents a second creative childhood. The first was in the early 1980s when, following the death in 1975 of Francisco Franco and his Fascist censoring of all culture, Almodóvar rose to cultish notoriety in Spain with farces like Pepi, Luci, Bom and Other Girls Like Mom (1980) and Labyrinth of Passion (1982), whose polyphonies of sex, drugs and the grotesque were revelatory. Reminiscent of these earlier films, I’m So Excited is a sex comedy with an ambition that seems rather Greek: to provoke cathartic laughter in the audience, as a group of stock characters face death up in the air, in a faulty plane. Here, though, some thirty years down the track, it all feels decidedly flabby around the edges.

The film starts promisingly enough, inter-titles assuring that  ‘everything that happens in this film is fiction and fantasy and bears no relation to reality,’ before a 60s-inspired credit sequence opens onto Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas (regular Almodóvar muses) as bumbling, smitten ground crew. We enter the plane and quickly realise that the opening disclaimer was all a ruse: a close up of a passenger’s newspaper reads, ‘Guardian Bank Intervention Imminent’ and ‘This Year’s Top 10 Financial Scandals.’  Perhaps for Spanish audiences the most stingingly specific socio-economic reference in the film is to ‘La Mancha airport’, which passengers call ‘a complete swindle’ and obviously refers to the Ciudad Real Airport outside Madrid that was privately built for over €1 billion, operated for 3 years until 2012 and now sits disused.

I’m So Excited alludes to Spain’s current economic woes, but it does so within an absurdly crisp, almost hyper-real mise-en-scène populated by a bevy of unreal characters. Chief of the caricatures is the Chief Steward (played superbly by Javier Cámara) – a loose-lipped compulsive drinker – who is surrounded by two other über-gay stewards, a bi-sexual captain, a psychic virgin, a famous aging porn star, a hit man and the head of an investment bank. (Economy Class is mostly absent because, we’re told, they were put to sleep ‘to prevent Economy Class Syndrome’.) Needless to say, things get pretty silly; Spain’s real world problems filtered through the luridly coloured cloth of farce.

But, having established a level of absurdity, the film then veers wildly off course once the passengers are informed that the plane might crash upon landing, killing them all. The passengers begin making calls on the broken cabin phone to folks on the ground. First up is Ricardo (Guillermo Toledo). Unlike any of the calls that follow, here the film leaves the self-enclosed space of the plane and enters the (far less interesting) world in Madrid for a long sequence involving Ricardo’s hot young ex-girlfriend, Ruth (Blanca Suárez), coinciding with his current, suicidal girlfriend, Alba (Paz Vega). This section has zero impact on the story that follows; in fact, Ricardo is basically dropped from the film like a hot tortilla as soon as he hangs up the phone. Sloppily realised and narratively inert, this section interrupts and irrevocably confuses the tone of the film.

The feeling of dead-air inspired by the sequence in Madrid is compounded when we’re back inside the exuberant plane and, not too long after, the stewards are spiking Valencia cocktails with mescaline and performing a Busby Berkley-style rendition of I’m So Excited (the film’s high point). As the stewards see it: ‘We have to entertain them so they don’t think.’ Once the mescaline hits the film descends into pure sex farce, and complete silliness.

To be fair, farce and the absurd are perhaps the hardest, most subjective of all genres of comedy to appraise; not least of all because its tambour is often so wedded to how well it captures the zeitgeist of a particular time and place. So, while I’m So Excited alludes specifically to the current socio-economic moment in Spain, the potency of the farce felt (to this Anglo-Aussie at least) outdated – a bit like Carry On Flying.

Ricardo says at one point: ‘We’re flying around aimlessly and we still don’t know where or how to land.’ This is a metaphor for the ongoing socio-economic crisis of Spain, but, ironically, it also sums up the experience of watching the film. For while I can defend its value as a carnivalesque lampooning of sociocultural taboos – creating a topsy-turvy world of Bacchic revelry in the sky – that would be an entirely cerebral response to a film that aims for a bodily one: laughter. In the end, did it make me laugh in the face of simulated death? No, not nearly enough.

Kate Harper studied cinema at the University of Melbourne. She is a freelance writer and film reviewer for ABC Radio.




9781926428239

Abigail Ulman

Cold Feet and Hot Little Hands: Abigail Ulman on writing – and not writing – her first book

Post-book deal, every time I sat down to try to write something, I felt paralysed by some kind of literary stage fright. I had shown my work to other people before – for writing workshops, and submissions to literary journals and competitions – but I had never before written a story while thinking This story is going to be published in a book. Or, more accurately, This story idea is nowhere near good enough to be published in a book. Read more »

9781926428239

Sian Campbell

Girlhood and The Woman-Child in Abigail Ulman’s Hot Little Hands

Each of the stories in Hot Little Hands navigates girlhood in some way, from the lives of high school-age teenagers to those of young twentysomething women. ‘Girl things’ such as horse camp, gymnastics, feminised bodies, clothing, periods, crushes, yoga and gossip weave through the fabric of the text. Though the subject matter is often adult – the girls of Hot Little Hands navigate abortion, sex trafficking, young motherhood, drugs, and deportation – the girls themselves are not… even when they technically are. Read more »

Dont-Try-This-at-Home-_-cover_-FINAL1-300x460

James Tierney

Subscriber Stories: Angela Readman’s Don’t Try This At Home

As a subscriber to publisher And Other Stories’ distribution model, I am in the unusual position of reviewing a book – Angela Readman’s short story collection Don’t Try This At Home – that thanks me by name for making its existence possible. Read more »

amy-schumer

Rebecca Shaw

Amy Schumer and the equal right to be funny

I don’t think men should be banned from making jokes about contentious subjects. I am of the belief that anything can and should be laughed about, and if done right, it can be beneficial. But more often, women are doing it right, and women are doing it better. Read more »

womens-home-companion

Kate Iselin

Trivial Pursuits: The media and ‘women’s interests’

Women, especially in public life, exist as a part of men’s worlds – a big part, sure – but still a part. Even as women become more vocal in demanding accurate and respectful representation, we are kept at arms length by a mainstream media which struggles to catch up. Read more »

SGbTsPQ

Rebecca Shaw

Command and Control: Trophy daughters and overprotective dads

There is no doubt that an overprotective parent is better than a parent who couldn’t care less what their child gets up to. And there is no doubt that most overprotective mums and dads are well-meaning. But paternal ‘protectiveness’ shticks often boil down to fathers not wanting their daughters to have sex, and by extension, get pregnant. Read more »

Partisan

Joanna Di Mattia

To experience the world with blinkers on: Ariel Kleiman’s Partisan

Partisan beautifully evokes that complex space between childhood and adulthood, when we start to question the worldview we have inherited – when we begin to see the world through our own eyes. It is both a coming-of-age story, and an innocence-coming-undone story. Read more »

kstew

Joanna di Mattia

Kristen Stewart Through the Looking-Glass

Kristen Stewart is an actress who has been criticised, maligned even, for an acting style that transmits from set to screen as sullen, adolescent, wooden, blank, fidgety and inelegant. But perhaps she’s an actress concerned with authenticity, and the defining feature of her style is to show us herself by appearing like she’s not acting at all. Read more »

it-follows-4

Anwen Crawford

Behind You: The subtler horror of It Follows

I don’t watch many horror films. Lifelong victim of an overactive and slightly morbid imagination, I regularly envisage disasters, natural or otherwise, that might befall me, without requiring the added stimulus of cinema. Read more »

Struggle+Street+KEY+IMAGE

Anwen Crawford

Shame and Stigma on Struggle Street

Struggle Street framed poverty as a combination of genetic inheritance and natural disaster – a barrier to be overcome only through ceaseless positive effort. Those who sabotage themselves through bad choices are therefore fair targets for our scorn, while those who gain employment or remain sober deserve praise for overcoming the odds. The deserving and undeserving poor, in other words. What an old story. Read more »

TheSlap_Show

Genevieve Wood

The Slap: What’s lost when a cricket bat becomes a baseball bat?

‘A cricket bat wouldn’t make sense in an American context’, says Tony Ayres, executive producer of the US adaptation of Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap. He’s right, of course – it wouldn’t. But when, in US playwright Jon Robin Baitz’s version, the eponymous slap occurs as the result of a swinging baseball bat, something’s not quite right. Read more »

empire-tv-review-fox

Anwen Crawford

Rise of an Empire

Watching Empire, I wondered why there haven’t been more television shows about record labels, the music industry being the cesspit of venality that it is. Forget TV dramas about police departments and hospital wards – a show about a record label comes with all that conflict, plus outfits, plus songs. Read more »

svfw crop

Katie Williams

Silicon Valley Fashion Week?: Fashion, technology, and wearability

Last week saw the inaugural Silicon Valley Fashion Week? (yes, with a question mark) unfold in San Francisco. The show promised ‘drones, robots, and mad inventions’, and tickets sold out swiftly; attendees were clearly eager to see more inventive clothing in this heartland of nerds. Read more »

AnimalCrossing copy

Katie Williams

Digging For Meaning in Utopia: Storytelling in Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing is a series of games in which – as my partner once remarked incredulously – ‘nothing ever happens.’ In its latest incarnation, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you become the unwitting mayor of a town populated by anthropomorphic, bipedal animals. Read more »

DUKMRUTRHLU31425064919799

Katie Williams

The Currency of Games: The real world cost of in-game purchases

A new item introduced in World of Warcraft lets players purchase a month of playing time for the real-life price of $20, which they can then sell to other players in-game in exchange for virtual currency. It’s an exchange of real money for a virtual currency that has in-game value but none in the physical, ‘real’ world – and it makes me incredibly uneasy. Read more »

16741557134_5206bec0cd_k

Jane Howard

Dark Side of the Rainbow: Belvoir St Theatre’s The Wizard of Oz

This production of The Wizard of Oz is ‘after L Frank Baum’: after his book, after the 1939 film, and after our collective memories of both. Fragmented, non-narrative, and largely wordless, it relies on our existing knowledge of the text to build a work of images and emotion, and in doing so demands an extreme generosity from the audience. Read more »

Arts House_Image_10c_Oedipus Schmoedipus (post)_Credit – Ellis Parrinder copy

Jane Howard

A Case for Diversity in Theatre

Attracting different audiences to the theatre is about many things. It’s about accessibility for people without high disposable incomes, but it’s also about marketing and publicity; about creating venues which are physically accessible for people with disabilities; and about ensuring the performers on stage are as diverse as we want their audiences to be. Read more »

2909252617_1f456d0c81_b

Jane Howard

A Working-Class Mythology: Ironing boards at the theatre

In theatre, there is perhaps no prop piece more mythologised than the ironing board, which came to signify the birth of contemporary British theatre. Read more »