"First class ... used to be a better meal. Now it's a better life," Renee Zellweger famously says in Cameron Crowe's Jerry Maguire. "Yeah, but the plane's still going down," is the retort implied by Pedro Almodóvar's I'm So Excited, a seeming trifle that might be the director's strangest movie in years.
On the surface, the film is a frivolously offbeat comedy set aboard an airplane headed for doom. All the poor schlubs in Economy Class have been given sleeping pills — not because the plane is going down but because the drudgery of Economy Class is unbearable. In Business Class, a small cross-section of the Spanish elite (among them: a businessman, a dominatrix, a soap star, a hit man, and a yuppie couple) tries to gauge the situation and deal with encroaching mortality. And a trio of flamboyantly gay cabin stewards keeps them plied with liquor, gossip, drugs and Pointer Sisters songs.
In some ways, I'm So Excited is less a movie than it is a pageant. There are cameos (Almodóvar sneaks in the likes of Paz Vega, Antonio Banderas and Penélope Cruz), and there's a wonderful musical performance. Also: tons of sex and many brief comic reveries. All of which makes it hard to feel very much for these fated characters. When one character's call to the outside world leads to a weird, soap-opera-like string of events and revelations, the result suggests a pastiche of character development, not the real thing.
That lack of involvement may well be intentional. I'm So Excited often feels like a calculated throwback to the surreal, bubbly comedies that the director used to make, before he became a master of ironic sentiment. Yes it lacks the pitch-black edge of those earlier films — though full of sex, it's never going to provoke the kind of outrage that Dark Habits, Law of Desire, Matador or Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! did back in the day. But look closer and you'll sense a lot more going on beneath the film's candy-colored surface. References to Spain's crashing economy abound, and the airline is even called "Peninsula Airways" (presumably because "Iberia" was already taken, and "Spain" would be too heavy-handed).
Its oddball tone and obsession with sex and death suggest that I'm So Excited might be showing some of Almodóvar's deeper thoughts. For him, this isn't just a plane of privileged goofballs or even just an allegory of Spanish decline. A plane filled with sex, gossip, music, love and betrayal headed for near-certain doom is simply an existential fact. In this world, we're all just waiting for the crash.