News Column

'I'm So Excited' review: Almodovar's joyful universe

July 5, 2013

YellowBrix

July 05--Comedy. Starring Javier Camara, Cecilia Roth and Lola Duenas. Directed by Pedro Almodovar. (R. 99 minutes.)

"I'm So Excited" belongs to a special strain within Pedro Almodovar's film work that is almost purely joyful. That joy makes his films appealing and lovable. That "almost" -- his recognition of the true nature of existence and the real-life obstacles to joy -- is what makes him an important artist.

It's a movie almost guaranteed not to get proper respect because it contains no ideas except those embodied in its tone and attitude. They can't be extracted and translated, exactly, but are the result of multiple influences and feelings that might be broadly summarized under the cliche that life is worth living.

But Almodovar is not spouting cliches. Rather, he is grabbing you by the lapels and talking into your face and making you see the life that's around you. "I'm So Excited" is frivolous, but it's the frivolity of a passionate and thinking person.

Actually, here's something respectable about the movie. Of all Almodovar's films, it's the one most reminiscent of the later work of his countryman Luis Bunuel, with its candy-box color and atmosphere of absurdity -- except Almodovar has a bigger heart than Bunuel and is thus more accessible. The action takes place on an airplane, in which the landing gear is defective. So instead of heading across the ocean, the plane is circling Spain, looking for an airport that can accommodate a crash landing.

To keep the passengers calm, the flight attendants have drugged all the coach passengers into a stupor, and to keep themselves occupied, they're all drinking heavily and sniping at each other. They also lip-sync a dance number to the Pointer Sisters' "I'm So Excited," which gives the movie its American title. Meanwhile the people in first class are awake, but they're too preoccupied with their own concerns to catch on that anything is seriously wrong.

"I'm So Excited" is a big cast film set in a small space, and, until the plane either lands or crashes, it has only one way to keep the audience interested from one moment to another, and that's by being amusing at all times. There is no major story point that needs development and elaboration, just people up in the air, who have to be fun to watch, or there's no point. Fortunately, they're fun to watch.

Javier Camara stands out as an alcoholic flight attendant. So does Lola Duenas as a psychic from the provinces, a woman in her 40s who is like a combination of Giulietta Masina and Harpo Marx -- dazed innocence with a hint of menace.

She starts the movie as a virgin, but no one ever ends up that way, not in an Almodovar film. Also look for Cecilia Roth, who played the sexy free spirit in Almodovar's "Labyrinth of Passion" in 1982 and plays a glamorous madam here. The more things change ... She's a pleasure to watch and is completely at home in this filmmaker's universe.

Mick LaSalle is The San Francisco Chronicle's movie critic. E-mail: mlasalle@sfchronicle.com. Twitter: @MickLaSalle

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