Review: ‘Things That Make Living Worthwhile’

Helmer Manuel Gomez Pereira successfully returns to the comic terrain he traverses best with "Things That Make Living Worthwhile." Slickly packaged pic features a fine central tandem, lively script and marvelous 10-minute sequence that, despite coming too late, is alone worth the price of admission.

Following 2001’s ill-fated “Off Key,” helmer Manuel Gomez Pereira successfully returns to the comic terrain he traverses best with “Things That Make Living Worthwhile.” An enjoyable, adult-oriented comedy romancer beefed up by a thought-provoking darker side, the slickly packaged pic features a fine central tandem, lively script and marvelous 10-minute sequence that, despite coming too late, is alone worth the price of admission. Only letdowns are a lack of subtlety and of emotional charge in the early scenes. Commercial prospects look solid in Hispanic territories, and helmer’s rep could open doors beyond.

Unemployed, recently divorced and a recovering alcoholic, Jorge (Eduard Fernandez) decides today is going to be his lucky day. He walks into the local unemployment office, where he meets Hortensia (Ana Belen), an older divorcee, who’s keeping her eye open for available men.

They end up having a drink and, on the advice of Hortensia’s masseuse America (Rosario Pardo), having sex in the back of her car during the celebration of his son’s first communion. The service is also attended by his ex-wife, Angeles (Maria Pujalte), and her Chinese boyfriend, Chen (Carlos Wu).

Eduard has a conviction for a drunk driving accident which left a young man in a coma, however, and learning this makes the already hot-and-cold Hortensia even more uncertain about getting involved with him.

Pic’s central question of whether or not this unlikely pair is together because of love or loneliness is given reflective treatment. Script uses the private thoughts voiceover trick to good effect: As they have passionate sex in the shower, the musings of both are comically miles from the job in hand. Character-based humor works better here than the sometime leaden jokes.

In his second excursion into comic terrain after 2002’s “Smoking Room,” the wolfish-featured Fernandez puts together an engaging portrait of a man desperate to overcome his circumstances even at the price of sacrificing his dignity. Hortensia’s problems are less credible, but vet Belen, despite occasionally overacting, is always polished. Secondary perfs are less assured, with vet Jose Sacristan in particular going well over the top as Jorge’s cantankerous father, Juan.

Score by Binguen Mendizabal is stock sentimental, except during a wordless, affecting sequence an hour in that has the protags declining into wretched solitude following their temporary separation. Jorge hits the booze and drunkenly visits the victim of his driving accident in hospital, while Hortensia hits the anti-depressants and rails against her family at a party.

Mendizabal’s gentle, circular melody throughout this is spot on, and these beautifully realized scenes lend a much-needed poignancy to everything that comes after. Pop songs round out the soundtrack.

Things That Make Living Worthwhile

Spain

Production

A Columbia TriStar Spain release of a BocaBoca production, in association with TVE, Canal Plus. (International sales: Grupo Pi, Madrid.) Produced by Cesar Benitez. Directed by Manuel Gomez Pereira. Screenplay, Joaquin Oristrell, Yolanda Garcia Serrano, Carlos Molinero, Luis Piedrahita.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Juan Amoros; editor, Jose Salcedo; music, Binguen Mendizabal; art director, Josep Rosell; sound (Dolby Digital), Agustin Peinado. Reviewed at Minicines, Madrid, Nov. 27, 2004. Running time: 86 MIN.

With

Ana Belen, Eduard Fernandez, Jose Sacristan, Maria Pujalte, Rosario Pardo, Carlos Wu.
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