Saturday, June 1, 2013

Almodóvar and Jean Arthur

I saw the colorful and kooky new film from Pedro Almodóvar.  It's an airborne comedy called I'm So Excited! for English-speaking audiences.  That's also the name of the disco hit by The Pointer Sisters the trio of gay male stewards lip syncs for one cabin.

That musical performance for passengers is one of the screwball highlights of the movie.

There's plenty of frank and enthusiastic talk about sex during this flight from Madrid.

There's plenty of frank and enthusiastic sex performed during this flight from Madrid.

Written and directed by the acclaimed and constantly surprising Spanish filmmaker, I'm So Excited! seems to be a modern comedy based on a piece of medieval literature or a mythological epic poem.  A band of travelers is on a journey to a city where each feels a secret dream will come true or safety will be found.  The travelers are not honest with each other, nor are they honest with themselves.  A group of guides helping them along their journey fixes a magic elixir that each traveler drinks.  Secrets are revealed.  Passions are released.  Errors are admitted.  There is some danger on the trip.  See what I mean?  There's a bit of The Decameron vibe about it.  But here, the magic elixir is a special cocktail fixed by the stewards working in business class.  The danger...there's a mechanical problem with the plane that affects the flight from Madrid to Mexico City.

At its heart, this is an in-flight movie about not keeping secrets and being honest -- especially with yourself.  It's hard to keep a secret on this flight.  Due to the technical problems, every phone conversation can be heard over the public address system.

This flight has a virgin psychic, horny heterosexual passengers, gay male stewards, a bi-sexual married pilot and a bi-curious macho co-pilot.  And cocktails in the cockpit.
I have a passion for Pedro Almodóvar films.  Is I'm So Excited! as great and satisfying as Law of Desire, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, All About My Mother, Bad Education and Talk to Her?  No.  Is it entertaining, bawdy and briskly performed?  Yes.  I wanted to see it mainly for Spanish actor Javier Cámara.  I really dig his work.
What a moving and marvelous actor! Such honesty and simplicity in his portrayals of complicated characters.  I have a list of performances by actors that I wish I could've given in films that I love.  It includes Fred Astaire in Top Hat and The Band Wagon, James Mason in 1954's A Star Is Born, Anton Walbrook in The Red Shoes, Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot, Jack Nicholson in Chinatown -- and Javier Cámara in Talk to Her.  He moved me to my very soul in that Almodóvar film as a hospital caregiver.

Two men.  One gay, one straight.  Two women they love.  Both women are in a coma.  The two men become friends.  The friendship leads to deeper intimacy in the other relationship.  The gay man, played by Cámara, urges the straight man to "talk to her."  It's a great film -- bold, imaginative, challenging, funny and profound.  And touching.

Intimacy.  Entering into someone else via communication and care.  The unpredictability, the complications, the rewards and beauty of it.  Talk to Her is one of the best films of 2001.  I wish Hollywood films would show gay/straight male friendships without making them "cartoonish," if you know what I mean.  These were two working class men who bonded in a hospital and life became better for it. Hollywood should take a tip from this film.   I'm So Excited! is not as profound but, for me, Cámara is still worth watching.  As with the previous film I blogged about, Leave Her to Heaven, this screwball comedy has a vivid color scheme in costume and art direction.  I loved the look of it.

Although not one of Almodóvar's best films, this is a fine example of why young actors need to make the viewing of classic films -- films made well before the 1980s -- part of their actors' homework.  Passengers pack into the cockpit with the overwhelmed crew.

The director/writer said that this business in business class was inspired by the ocean liner stateroom scene in A Night at the Opera (1935) starring the Marx Brothers.
The galley spaces behind the curtains were the areas where the crew could gossip.
The filmmaker said that these scenes were inspired by The Women (1939).
There's a key scene in which a cellphone from someone high above street level falls and lands in the basket of a young lady riding a bicycle.  Her day will change.
Almodóvar added that this element was inspired by a key scene in a classic screwball comedy, one of the best of the 1930s, written by Preston Sturges and directed by Mitchell Leisen.  The wonderful Jean Arthur starred as a poor New Yorker riding a bus on her way to work when a $50,000 mink coat lands on her head in Easy Living (1937).
Her life will change when she locates the tycoon who tossed it off his penthouse roof.
A respectable young lady trying to give the coat back to its rightful owner, she goes to eat at a diner.  She falls for the busboy, not knowing he's really the son of the tycoon.

Let's say that you're a young actor whose agent or manager contacts you with the news that you have an audition for a new screwball comedy in a couple of weeks.  You're told that the director's project was influenced by the classic 1930s films Easy Living, The Women and A Night at the Opera.  You would have to rent and watch those movies (if you'd not already seen them) as part of your homework. Hollywood comedies from the 1930s, such as those, had a certain rhythm and style of comedy -- not just in physical action but in vocal delivery.  You would not get a callback for a second audition if you gave the casting people Knocked Up, Bridesmaids or even Airplane! when they're looking for Easy Living, The Women and A Night at the Opera.

Trust me on this.  I've spoken to casting directors in New York City who expressed frustration at young actors not having done such homework with classic films to prepare for auditions.

I saw I'm So Excited! recently at a midday screening as the guest of a dear friend.  It was shown one afternoon when Manhattan got hit with a major rainstorm.  Thunder included.  I was in New York City for a few days of intense job-hunting and a few meetings.  I was partially soggy as we entered the screening room but very happy to be with her and out of the rain.  I was up for a few laughs.  I think Thelma Adams and I got more of a kick out of Almodóvar's campy humor than several others in the private screening room did.  We giggled a lot and enjoyed its Spanish flavor.

Secrets.  Honesty.  Passion.  And a hot cockpit.  I'm So Excited!



  1. Terrific. I love the way you trace what's new in today's films to its roots in the old. Why don't you have a TV show???


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