Javier Camara on Flying High with Almodovar
What’s it like to find a genius at work, albeit in a minor key? In his latest summer escapist farce "I’m So Excited!," director Pedro Almodovar zeroes in on our global madhouse age’s zany core. He uses a situation so overworked, a subgenre so risibly tired, that only a genius would dare approach it while still at the peak of his powers. Almodovar, the master of a revolutionary brand of hyper-camp, sends aloft a top-notch cast and makes the airplane calamity movie to end all airplane calamity movies.
Well, probably not, but one can always hope. And, in a touch that is entirely Almodovarian, the Master adds a disco-dance number, the movie’s title song, that in a hilarious, film-stopping moment manages to sum up everything about dance music that is so eternally related to queer folks and our true friends.
For me, "I’m So Excited!" is the ultimate camp reboot of my favorite disaster movie as a 10-year-old, William A. Wellman’s 1954 three-hankie soap "The High and the Mighty," starring John Wayne. Produced towards the end of the big studio era as a corny, histrionic vehicle for the Duke, "The High and the Mighty" didn’t overdo the star-pandering bathos that would mar the "Airport" franchise in the 1970s. Almodovar - like Scorsese, a fan of all genres - jump-starts "I’m So Excited!" in a heightened, but still sober-enough, brand of naturalistic melodrama - even Duke Wayne might have taxied this baby out to the runway, if not much farther.
In a bit of Almodovar-style dramatic irony, the plane’s landing gear has been disabled in a prankish pre-credits scene featuring Almodovar ensemble veterans Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas. But this slapstick prelude merely serves to put Peninsula Airways Flight 2549 into a comic holding pattern that makes the following 90 minutes as worthwhile a waste of your movie dollars as any other comedic mall fare.
That’s not to say it’s classic Almodovar, because it isn’t, but at least for the first hour through the big dance number, there’s much to appreciate, much that will thrill fans of his true gems like "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown."
For queer fans, Almodovar introduces a trio of male flight attendants - Carlos Areces, Raul Arevalo and Javier Camara - each with his own insane lifestyle, erotic relationship and workplace issues. Suffice to say these "girls" know each other and their pilot/co-pilots all too well.
As a result, in the first half of the movie, they mine every possible variation on the incest motif for in-flight crews. The one-liners fly in a fast and furious manner about the cockpit and the first-class lounge. What about the folks in coach? Oh, they’ve been immobilized for the duration of the flight with an industrial-strength muscle relaxant.
One unusual twist is a ground-based suicide attempt involving a very imaginative use of digital communication equipment. It’s Almodovar’s version of a "Jackass" moment, and I doubt many will be tempted to try it at home. It’s stupid, but it does help pay off the obligatory third-act climactic crash. But whatever you do, whether you like or loathe this summer trifle, do not walk out until the film wraps, or you’ll never forgive yourself.
Cast member Javier Camara (singing steward Joserra) provided a witty hotel chat on the joys of working for Pedro. We began with the movie-stopping production number.
Javier Camara: I think it’s a perfect homage to the 70s and 80s. The song just appeared one day, it doesn’t exist in the script. Pedro discovered the flight attendants singing to each other. He asked, "What are you doing?" "Sorry, Pedro, we were just waiting for you." "No, I think it’s a great idea."
A few weeks later he told us, "I’m thinking of devoting a scene to a song." "Who’s going to sing?" "You guys, and you’re going to dance." This demonstrates how Pedro is always improvising and looking for the perfect tools to implement an idea. I love that!
David Lamble: It’s a mood-breaker - it functions in much the same way as the dance number in William Friedkin’s The Boys in the Band.
It happens when everybody’s so relaxed - we have just taken the drugs from [a drug mule] and mixed it in the Valencia cocktails - and all the feelings of the passengers come out.
How hard was it to stage the number?
It was staged by a choreographer [Blanca Li] who’s now working with Beyonce. Pedro loves mistakes, details that don’t work. I remember Carlos Areces, the fat flight attendant, had trouble following the choreography, and Pedro loved that. "That’s comedy!" Raul and I were very professional, and Carlos was looking at us. I remember a similar moment in the Barbra Streisand film "Funny Girl," where the choreographer is out of the track, and Pedro loves that.
The film honors many of Pedro’s 80s cutting-loose films, and also picks up motifs from his great works like "Bad Education."
Carlos and I were watching many of Pedro’s old films, and we saw examples of sex and drugs and characters desiring things they can’t reach. Pedro’s always revisiting his own themes. Every single day is new with Pedro.
He loves to break rules: About gender, about comedy, tragedy, drama, and mixes all kinds of sexes in his films. In "Bad Education," Gael [Garcia Bernal] plays a transsexual, a heterosexual and a gay guy. "Bad Education" is about guilt and Catholicism, and this film is about angry people suffering together. They’re about to die: It’s a metaphor about crisis.