Monday, February 10, 2014

May Stephen Stucker smile upon you, and never mention your weight

(Los amantes pasajeros)
In the main a supremely delightful comedy, undermined by a completely unrelated side-story that drains its once-seemingly infinite energy for an interminable 20 minutes, before being critically damaged when Almodovar, without much indication he knows what he's doing, plays a violent felony for laughs.

2013 Spain/2013 USA (the same year?  inconceivable!)
Written and directed by Pedro Almodovar
With Javier Camara (Joserra), Carlos Areces (Fajas), Raul Arevalo (Ulloa), Antonio de la Torre (Capt. Alex Acero), and Hugo Silva (Benito Moron)

Spoiler alert: mild

It's a silly annoyance that has nothing to do with the actual movie, but which I wanted to get out of the way: the above image forms the background for the menu screen on the blu-ray.  It's a great image, and I'll allow for the director, and I'll allow that it reflects the relationships between the characters in no manner at all, but the insuperable problem, however minor, is that one of those characters is never on the Goddamned plane.  Except it's not minor, really.  That is a problem with the actual movie, and a big one.  Just not the biggest one.

There's trouble in the skies, thanks to the hideous negligence of Almodovar alumni (and actual Hollywood movie stars) Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz making their cameos as airport employees.  Due to their inept pre-flight procedure, immediately after takeoff, Peninsula Flight 2549 has swallowed its chocksand that's the first blowjob joke of about 2,549, but the only one that it took me three days to getThis has disabled part of the aircraft's landing gear, forcing the crew to seek an emergency landing on the first available runway, of which there are presently none.

Ordinarily, this would be a tense affair; and to the extent it is never a sure thing that anyone will survive, Excited! retains an element of an airplane thriller about it.  It does so especially in a climax that is as interestingly stagedpurely through sound design and long, expectant takes of an empty airport while something happens outsideas any airplane crash I can think of.  No, tragicomedy is surely never beyond the realm of possibility; and I will not spoil the ending.

However, as you damn well know, Excited! is an exercise in zaniness with a large ensemble cast that uses a doomed airliner more as its setting than as its plot, as you could tell even if you knew nothing about it, due to its title ending with an exclamation point.  It is dissimilar to another zany comedy with a title ending in an exclamation point only in that its gags don't require impossible things to happen, only implausible ones.  But Excited! earns its emphatic punctuation mark all the same, with an amphetamine energy to every piece of dialogue and every moment of its central performances and every musical cue and every bold production design decision.

I wanted to like it very much more than I did; and I would, if I could just ignore one key thing.

That key thing is not, perhaps unexpectedly, that our protagonistic flight attendantsJoserra, flanked by Fajas and Ulloadrug everyone flying coach, including the coach flight attendants.  Sure, I'm annoyed by it.  And if you asked me why this happens, I would have no idea.  I realize, of course, that it keeps the character count down to a manageable dozen and change, but such could have been just as handily accomplished by a nearly empty plane, which is just as believable and a lot less pointlessly evil.  Oh, it's symbolism?  Well, that's awfully devoid of resonance with anything occurring in the film.  In any event, if you think the economy fliers are getting fucked now, just wait.  And we will get to that.

Other than the inciting incident of swallowed chocks, Excited! has no real plot at all, and is mainly content with situation comedy and character sketch, which is in fact ideal.  Instead of three acts, if you will, it has three modes.  The first involves the passengers taking stock of their lives, and trying to contact loved ones or associates on the ground (a task made difficult and compromising by the fact that the onboard phone is broken and blasts any conversation on the intercom for all to hear).  The second involves the stewards' brave attempts to do their duty and make the potential last moments of their charges' lives as comfortable and fun as possible (no matter how many laws they have to break to do so).  The third involves the relationships between the crew themselves, most importantly between the pathologically honest Joserra and the square, married, bisexual captain, Alex, who are lovers (with varying degrees of fidelity, the degree to which they vary depending upon your perspectiveand cue blowjob jokes #2 through #981).

The second and third modes supply most of the film's comedy; the first attempts to provide it pathos.  The second and third modes are vastly more successful.

Still, all but one of these seven varied passengers is interesting and lively, the dominatrix and the hitman being standouts.  The exception is Ricardo, an aging movie star.  He is the first to try to make contact with one of his loved ones, and winds up, through the unlikeliest of scenarios, getting in touch with two of them.  Unaccountably, we learn more about the dullest character than any other, in an extended sequence that has been universally hailed as a huge mistake.

For Excited! is a film with an almost unstoppable momentum, right up until the moment Ricardo's story takes center stage.  Now, the action moves to the ground, of all places, where we follow his ex-girlfriend around as she tries to attend to the affairs of his current girland it's so fucking boring I'm going to stop.  Suffice it to say, I have read no review that has not excoriated this choice, but I will go one better: it's actually padding.  I mean, that without it the script did not reach an appropriate feature length.  This makes Almodovar's attempt to graft it onto the film as a makeshift dramatic backbone even more obnoxious than it would were it simple, if egregious, misjudgment.  Someday, Western civilization will relearn that a 70 or even 65 minute movie, if it's good, is an acceptable thing.  And perhaps one day we will value I'm So Excited! more, as part of that reeducation.

As for those other 70 or 65 minutes, however, it turns out one of the coolest things there can be is a screen overloaded by an effete trio of Comic Gays being exceedingly Comically Gay.  The three flight attendants are moderated (barely) by the captain as the straight man, or at least the straightest man available, along with a Comically Closeted Gay as a foil to the foils.  The result is outrageous camp that trots right up to the line of offensive and snaps its fingers at it most judgmentally.

I doubt it would have taken a gay director to be comfortable enough with the material to do it justice, because the concept is pretty self-evidently great.  What I don't have are many doubts that it took a gay director for an audience to be comfortable enough with laughing at what, in the end, amounts to a vast exercise in stereotypingcomplete with a hyperkinetic cabaret number to the titular song, which is high amongst the most purely ecstatic moments in any movie of 2013.  I thus wonder, had the same movie had been made by a straight writer/director, if it would have generated a tedious controversy, or if through the sheer innovation of putting its Comic Gay Prime in the lead role audiences could forgive it, for it would be a shame if they couldn't.  I simply couldn't bear living with a worldview that would decry this much obvious joy as insensitive.  I mean, this movie makes being a stock homosexual comedy figure look like such candy-colored fun, that in Russia, I can't imagine watching it is not punishable by death.

Of course, when it comes to its heterosexual characters, I'm So Excited! is monstrously insensitive in a manner that rivals The Host.  I'll level with you now and admit that I haven't seen a huge number of Almodovar films, but between this and the last one, I'm starting to wonder if every one has a scene where a male character is raped, and it is played as farce.

One of the passengers on this death ride is a woman who is a virgin (she's also a clairvoyant, but that's not germane right now).  In the throes of a Valencia cocktail spiked with mescaline (an otherwise pretty great sequence), she wanders into coach and rouses enough of an unconscious man that she can put him in her, and this is... fun?  Well, it's not exactly the same kind of fun I was having, to say the least.

This is, of course, the one key thing.  Imagine that any other combination of genders were used here: if one of the stewards just straight-up sodomized him; or if the Comic Closeted Gay, determined that he's really, totally straight, availed himself upon a sleeping woman to prove it.

I'd be remiss if I didn't note that he sort-of opens his eyes and smiles, thus ratifying a stranger riding his cock without consent.  I guess that's meant to be enough. Well, it isn't, because he's still drugged out of his mind; that's why he doesn't remember it later, when Almodovar has the nerve to turn a molestation into a meet-cute.

But, oh, right, I forgot.  Women having sex with men without their permission is funny!  And the fact is, I'm a product of my society.  I'm not as viscerally offended by it as I would be either of my alternative scenarios.  Yet when I do think of them, and realize that there is no rational difference, I'm almost as unnerved.  At least The Skin I Live In was supposed to be creepy; here it's just terrible.

Humbug:  it sucks to hold forty-five seconds of grotesquery against what is otherwise a truly beautiful, high-spirited comedy, but it's nasty enough that I have to.  In this regard, I'm So Excited! disappointed me immensely, for it threw away in just a few moments the first really good grade I'd have officially accorded a foreign film.

Frankly, I'm tired of giving them harsh or mixed reviews; maybe I should just go ahead and say right now that Blue Is the Warmest Color earned a B+.  I just have no particular desire to talk about that so very talked-about movie; nor do I feel a driving need to, probably because Emma never slips Adele a mickey and proceeds to stick a traffic cone up her ass.

Score: 5/10

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