Director:Gracia Querejeta | Writer: Gracia Querejeta, Antonio Mercero| Dop: Juan Carlos Gómez | Cast: Maribel Verdú, Antonio De la Torre, Eduard Fernández
Synopsis: Elia is turning 40, and to celebrate she wants to bring her nearest and dearest together for a weekend in the hills of Tenerife. It’s been years since she’s seen many of them and though there are still underlying tensions and unfinished business to resolve – Elia is determined to celebrate. Around the dinner table does the story really begin to unravel. The seemingly stable, successful group of friends begin to share the best thing that’s happened to them within the year so far – but as it turns out it’s Elia whose good fortune trumps them all, and not everyone is happy about it.
As I’m not familiar with Querejeta’s previous films, I have attributed the look and feel of Happy 140, to a what a Nancy Meyers movie might look like… in Spain, with Spanish people – talking Spanish. Just swap the Hamptons townhouse for a Spanish Villa and it really is that uncanny.
Other ingredients that make this a Meyers-esque affair: The bright, stylish domestic spaces accompanied by an upbeat opening score and a beautiful single female lead (approaching/of middle age); she’s introduced to the audience, penning a letter/novel/article (because, why the hell not Men!?) as her voice permeates over a series of establishing shots of her age appropriate, middle-class friends – living seemingly mirror image classy lives.
We meet Elia’s highly strung, younger sister, Katia accompanied by her cookie cutter lawyer husband Juan and their teenage son Bruno. Then there’s Elia’s childhood friends – chef Ramon, his restaurateur wife Martina; money obsessed millionaire playboy, Polo and Mario – the love of Elia’s life, and the one that got away. And true to Meyers middle-age-woman-faced-with-middle-age-problem, Mario’s brought his hot, much younger girlfriend Claudia.
But unlike a Nancy Meyers movie, it’s not easy to see what’s coming. In some instances, it’s frustratingly twisted and unforgiving (a deserving ‘up yours’ to people like myself the audience who would have made the mistake of likening it to a Nancy Meyers movie, probably). When Elia elaborates on the real reason for bringing them all together – the little matter of winning the 140 Euromillion jackpot –
the array of colourful characters reveal themselves to be spiteful, jealous and greedy lost souls.
The decision to include talking heads with some of the characters doesn’t really work in moving the story forward, and towards the third and final act of the film struggles to follow a solid start and brilliantly executed middle. It’s this second trajectory however that saves this film from being just ok to really good – the major shift from happy-go-lucky family film to dark morally testing thriller. This means a subsequent shift in the way we’re expected to view Elia as our leading woman. That strong female character lead… she’s deeper, more relatable and as a result more humanised than that. In fact the fantastic ensemble are layers of humorous, deeply flawed and at times, heartbreaking traits – and watching how the dynamics of their relationships unfold becomes Happy 140’s defining and strongest factor.
*contrary to what it may look like, i’m a Meyers lover not hater – it’s just fun to hold this film up to her standard.