Fans of Spanish filmmaker Alex de la Iglesia are in for a treat this year, as he has followed up his wild and crazy film from last year, “The Last Circus”, with this year’s “As Luck Would Have It”. It is such a rare treat to have two new films from this amazingly inventive director in two consecutive years. Compared to the absolute insanity and anything-can-happen mantra of his previous film, “As Luck Would Have It” is a much more subdued and controlled effort from de la Iglesia, and as such, is arguably his most accessible film in years.
The film is about family man named Roberto, who at one time was a legend in the marketing and advertising world after coming up with his catchy and multi-million dollar making slogan “La chispa de la vida” (which means “the spark of life”) that he came up with for Coca Cola. Unfortunately Roberto has fallen on hard times due to the European economic crisis and hasn’t worked for years. He is months away from becoming bankrupt and losing it all, a fact that he keeps hidden from his beautiful wife Luisa, and as a last ditch effort he goes to an old friend who is still in the industry and basically begs for a job. However now that he is no longer hot property, his friends at the advertising company want nothing to do with him, and Roberto is humiliated.
In an attempt to cheer himself up, he heads to the hotel where he and his wife shared their honeymoon together. He plans to have a romantic weekend with the love of his life by booking the same room, but such is his luck that when he arrives at the location of the hotel he finds that it is no longer there, and that it has been replaced with a museum. In fact, under the site where the hotel originally sat, a massive archeological discovery has been made, as they have found an old Roman amphitheatre still largely in good condition. Roberto ends up wondering into a press conference being held about the discovery and while trying to find his way out ends up in a part of the museum still under construction. A security guard startles Roberto and he stumbles, falling from a great height and impaling his head, upon impact, onto an iron rod. Although he survives the fall and is even able to move all of his limbs, he is still unable to move due to how far the rod is embedded into his skull (and possibly his brain). Soon the attention of all of the reporters is no longer on the museum but rather on Roberto and his amazing survival. Suddenly a man who only hours earlier no-one had the time of day for, now has the attention of the entire nation. Immediately advertisers, television shows and even movie producers all start calling, and Roberto realizes he is in the box seat to rid himself of all his debts and to provide for his family’s future.
“As Luck Would Have It” is a biting satire of the world today as it examines just how far big corporations are prepared to go in an attempt to make money at the expense of an individual. It also looks at current media saturation and how we all seem to get something out of witnessing another person’s misery or pain. The exploitation of Roberto would be quite sickening except that he is complicit in it all, in an attempt to provide for his family a better future. Being in the advertising world, he knows how much his pain is worth and he goes about setting the price. He hires an agent immediately who starts the ball rolling with small stuff like product placement (advertisers get their product to be placed near Roberto’s body) until they decide to go big an offer an exclusive interview with one of Spain’s huge hotshot talk show hosts for massive money. It is during the negotiations here that we are witness to one of the most disgusting elements of the film, when the hosts says that he will pay for the exclusive if it can be guaranteed that Roberto will die on camera. His reasoning for this is that a tragedy always rates better than a feel good story. He explains this by mentioning that the reason no one remembers the Chilean miners anymore is because they all survived. This is quite a biting section of dialogue but sadly it also rings true. It is obvious that no one really cares about the “man” at the heart of the story, it is the story itself that is all that matters. However like I said, Roberto is fully aware of all this and as such slants everything towards his family benefit.
“As Luck Would Have It” is unique in the entire canon of de la Iglesia’s films because this is the first time that he has no writing credit at all on one of his films. I suspect that this is the main reason for the quick turnaround from “The Last Circus” to “As Luck Would Have It” as the script would’ve been ready to film straight away. This time the script is credited to Randy Feldman who was amazingly the writer of “Tango & Cash” many moons ago, as well as the Van Damme vehicle “Nowhere To Run”. Since then he appears to have done basically a few television episodes and that is it, so I am not sure if this was an old script lying around that de la Iglesia has just come across. It appears that it was originally written in English and translated later into Spanish, but it seems perfect for de la Iglesia’s sensibilities, who is a director who always loves to add comedy (even of the blackest variety) into his films. While the film does make some good points about today’s society, it almost feels as though it is too safe. I felt it should’ve gone darker and maybe even more towards the absurd. Let’s face it, Alex de la Iglesia is a master of the absurd and we all love it when he takes us to these places, but unfortunately he isn’t able to here and as a result the film does not soar like I wish it would. De la Iglesia is a visual genius, but he is hampered here by the fact that his main character is unable to move, so we are not treated to as many visual flourishes as we would expect from a de la Iglesia film. Still the few that he does give us are very nice (I very much liked a shot from under Roberto that is near the end of the film).
The performances from the main actors are what really keep the viewer engaged in the story of “As Luck Would Have It”. Apparently Jose Mota, who plays Roberto, is actually a comic and this is his first starring role in any film. He does a marvelous job in the role and brings a real heart to it. Although his situation is absurd he plays Roberto straight, there is no winking at the camera or anything like that, to him the situation is as real as it gets – he has a rod in his head and in all likeliness he will not survive the night. You really feel for him in the beginning as he feels like a failure who is letting down his family. The way Mota holds himself is important as he is slouched over, tired looking and does not exude the confidence needed in the industry he was once employed in. However we see this confidence returning as he begins to provide for his family while impaled. Because Mota is stationary the majority of the performance is done through the eyes and he is really powerful here. It seems strange casting a comedian to play a very still part, but casting against type has worked incredibly well for de la Iglesia here.
The real standout in the film, though, is Salma Hayek as Roberto’s wife, Luisa. It must have been a real coup for de la Iglesia to snag this high profile Hollywood actress for his film. This is the first time I remember seeing Salma in anything where she speaks her native tongue (although I stand to be corrected) and she really is powerful in it. Her role is the heart of the film because Luisa is torn between letting her husband’s pain (and her family’s) to be exploited because she knows that as disgusting as it is, it is making Roberto feel like he is again providing for his family which she knows he needs. Still she is repulsed by the vulture like media presence and only offers an exclusive interview with a young female journalist who had the decency to turn her camera off after witnessing a particularly private moment between the doomed husband and his wife. The early scenes between Roberto and Luisa when he is getting ready for his job interview are also great and Hayek is really bubbly and vibrant in these scenes as a wife who still believes in her husband during these difficult times. She expresses a huge positive energy trying to get him up for the interview, and Hayek is just so charismatic here. It is obvious she loves this man through and through, and I thought the chemistry between the two of them was very realistic.
The other star of the film is Carolina Bang who plays the role of the reporter who Luisa gives the exclusive to. Bang played the main female role in de la Iglesia’s previous film “The Last Circus” and it was good to see him working with her again in a much different role. I was very impressed by her performance here because while I was aware of her incredible good looks, I felt her work could have been stronger in the previous film. Here though she comes across as very intelligent and as a woman who has a lot of heart and importantly a conscience which appears rare within the media. Again she is gorgeous to look at, but not in an overtly sexual way like in “The Last Circus”. I’ve got to say I really loved her in “As Luck Would Have It”.
The Spanish title of the film is actually the phrase that Roberto came up with for Coca Cola, “La Chispa de la Vida”, which means “the spark of life” and is apparently the real slogan Coca Cola uses in Spain. Personally I feel that this is a much better title than the English one because while it also has relevance to the actual plot of the film, it is much closer to the themes of the film. For Roberto, the spark of his life is his family and he does everything for them in this film. Due to the nature of the film itself, de la Iglesia was restricted to very few locations in the film, but the Roman amphitheatre is a perfect spot for the majority of the film, as it is like a coliseum with the media gathered around watching a blood sport put on for them (ie. They are waiting for Roberto to die to make their story more grand).
Overall, while I did enjoy de la Iglesia’s latest effort, I did feel that it was a little more generic than I am used to from this director. I wanted it to go darker with the comedy and for it to have a little more bite than it ended up having. Sadly due to the nature of the story, de la Iglesia’s visual flourishes were sadly absent but the performances more than made up for it. Again, I will state that I did like “As Luck Would Have It” but there was a feeling at the end of the film that was kind of like “Well…..so what?”. It didn’t shine like I wanted it to, but I would happily watch it again. For fans of the Spanish director it may come as a disappointment especially after the insanity of “The Last Circus”, but I certainly do not think it is as bad as his “The Oxford Murders”.