I’m about to lose control and I think I like it.
— “I’m So Excited,” The Pointer Sisters
“Who looks at their phone in the middle of the runway?” At first, baggage supervisor León (Antonio Banderas) is upset that his careless, perpetually texting handler (Coté Soler) has crashed his cart, dumped suitcases all over the tarmac, and oh yes, knocked down Jessica (Penélope Cruz). But it’s only a moment into I’m So Excited (Los amantes pasajeros) when León discovers his real plot, that Jessica is pregnant with his child, and becomes so excited that he loses track of his own assignment, endangering the passengers on a plane preparing to take off.
A moment after this, you discover that León and Jessica’s plot is not the focus of Pedro Almodóvar’s new comedy. As the plane leaves the happy, charismatic couple behind, it brings along a problem with the landing gear, which means that the cockpit crew’s attention will be focused on making an emergency landing, not in its scheduled destination, Mexico City, but in back in Spain, barely out of Madrid where it starts. As the captain, Álex (Antonio De La Torre), and his copilot Benito (Hugo Silva) work on a solution, they circle the plane for and the flight attendants do their best to distract the passengers and themselves, drinking and praying, and, this being an Almodóvar movie, having sex, talking about having sex, and performing a full-on dance number while miming the Pointer Sisters.
The setup limits the set and action, as does the contrivance that the onboard phone is broken so anyone using it has his or her conversation broadcast for everyone to hear. Er, actually, not everyone, for the crew early on decides to knock out the passengers traveling economy with a healthy dose of muscle relaxants: it makes the trip so much easier, they agree, when they don’t have to look after a lot of complainers with no legroom. (An early focus on one passenger’s newspaper’s headline, “The Top 10 Financial Scandals,” makes clear as well the broader metaphor, that “the middle class is unconscious”.) This device leaves the first class passengers with all the speaking parts not granted to the snarky staff, and indeed, the womanizing artist Ricardo Galán (Guillermo Toldeo), the corrupt financier Sr. Más (José Luis Torrijo), and the upscale madame Norma (Cecilia Roth) all have plenty to say.
Their exchanges — with flight attendants and each other — take up Almodóvar’s usual comedic topics, from soapy ignominies to political intrigues, with a mix of apathy, overinvestment, and vague transgression. Bruna (Lola Dueñas) early on embodies this last, pushing her way into the cockpit to announce that she’s a psychic and oh by the way has a premonition that “Something big is going to happen on this flight.” Bruna believes (hopes) this will have to do with her losing her virginity, but once this subject is broached, all sorts of transformations, revelations, and crises loom on the horizon. That Bruna helps to frame these with and as sexual excitement specifically underscores the film’s most galvanizing political argument, that such expression — physical, emotional, spiritual — creates community.
If this notion runs counter to conventional characterizations of sex, as a private, intimate experience, it is the joyous norm in Almodóvar’s world. Here, sex is a rambunctious means to declare and share yourself, to communicate and uncover, to laugh and understand. In this world, sex inspires a healthy loss of control that leads to inspiration and awareness. That the passengers’ adventures are helped along by the gleeful flight attendants Joserra (Javier Cámara), Fajas (Carlos Areces), and Ulloa (Raúl Arévalo), concocts one of the filmmaker’s signature arrangements, so strenuously artificial that the truths delivered are always already untrue too.
I’m So Excited conveys this simultaneity extravagantly, and sometimes tediously. No one understates here, yet everyone seems a step behind, a typical rhythm in melodrama and camp, where waiting for long beats and mugging in close-ups mock the machinations of so-called realism. The enclosed space of the plane here makes gestures seem bigger, expressions broader, and coincidences more preposterous. Galán is on the (speaker) phone with his latest about-to-be-ex when she threatens to throw herself off a bridge back in Madrid; her story is left briefly unresolved when she drops her phone, so conveniently, into the bike basket of a previous ex, the lovely Ruth (Blanca Suárez). Distracted by memories and regrets, Galán forgets the would-be suicide while trying to win back Ruth… over the phone.
The film comes up with its own series of distractions here, following Ruth on the ground, as she imagines she’s done with Galán but finds her way back, anyway. Her story echoes those of Galán, the other passengers and crewmembers, too, as well as the most obvious metaphor of the plane. Their accidental community, so temporary and yet so familiar, follows a trajectory at once banal and melodramatic, predictable and calamitous. Sex here and again occasions connections, but none seems lasting. For that effect, the players need to take control, to make decisions and commitments — and use their phones.