I’m so bored. I’m looking at my watch and it’s 9pm. That’s half way through the film. Only another 45 minutes left to go. Unless it’s longer than two hours. God forbid, what if it’s longer than two hours?
Spanish writer and director Pedro Almodóvar’s return to comedy has one of the most misleading titles ever. Even a song and dance routine to The Pointer Sisters’ rousing classic of the same name manages to fall impressively, spectacularly flat. Perhaps if it happened earlier on in the film it would be more enjoyable, but by this point – 45 minutes in and counting – I’m staring hatefully at a screen filled with clunking, gregarious gay stereotypes and have run out of patience.
To say it’s a combination of Airplane! and a Carry On film is accurate, but makes it sound like it’s actually funny. It’s not. On a plane from Madrid to Mexico City, flight attendants ‘camp it up’ and sex-obsessed passengers are so desperate to join the mile high club they resort to drugging and/ or raping one another. But it’s a comedy, so not only is this all OK, it’s hilarious – or at least the audience at Fulham Road Cineworld seems to think so. Sometimes they even laugh when there aren’t any jokes: A bicycle, a scene cut, a wall – anything can set them off.
Maybe everyone at advanced screenings like this just likes Almodóvar. He’s the kind of person film magazines describe as an ‘auteur’ and clearly has legions of fans ready to react as exactly, specifically, wholeheartedly as he would like them to. Look, the film isn’t bad; it’s a metaphor for the Spanish economy, duh. Anyone who didn’t grow up in Spain or go to film school will obviously miss all the visual motifs. Oh good, because that’s just what I was hoping for from an evening’s entertainment.
Almodóvar is apparently renowned for creating great female roles but here, at least, they are equally as predictable as the shrieking, flouncing male ones. They include a drugged newlywed, who spends only slightly less time saying dumb things than giving blowjobs, and a sex mad virgin who has intercourse with a man while he’s asleep. It’s only when Celia Roth’s ageing cover girl-turned-dominatrix gets hysterical and slapped in the face – a moment that mimics an infinitely better one in Airplane! – that the audience seem momentarily uncomfortable – but this soon passes.
The comedy is literal, obvious and, frequently, medical. Anything vaguely nuanced is quickly buried in a sweaty, sticky sea of bodily fluids. It feels like Amodovar has never met anyone gay or female and has got so excited to hear they exist that he’s ploughed every heightened cliché surrounding them into one overwrought film. The structure is erratic, veering between disconnected scenarios and relationships, and is far from the intricately woven farce it needs to be to work. Quite why glamourous women, played by Paz Vega and Blanca Suarez, get together with Guillermo Toledo’s greying thespian is as incongruous as everything else.
Visually, it’s as colourful and punchy as a children’s painting palate, but all the artistry is in the direction, costumes and set. The cast are lively and fun, but are saddled with a script that veers turbulently from slapstick to melodrama. Maybe it means more in Spain? Maybe it’s funnier if you speak Spanish? Or maybe these are just excuses because no one likes to see their favourite filmmaker create this kind of a plane crash.