“Money makes the world go ‘round,” is one of the baldest truths ever expressed in a Kander and Ebb lyric, and the cynical takeaway of “Happy 140.” Spanish helmer Gracia Querejeta’s blackly comic melodrama follows the winner of a 140 million euro lottery and the frenemies she invites to a luxurious Canary Islands hideaway where she plans to divulge her happy news. With a high-concept script that is ripe for a remake and a cast of well-known Spanish thesps, the glossy-looking pic should continue making the festival rounds but isn’t special enough overall to breakout of the Spanish-lingo ghetto.
To mark her 40th birthday, pretty but high-strung veterinarian Elia (Maribel Verdu) cajoles her old gang to get together, at her expense. She has several hidden agendas for the party, but so, too, as it turns out, do her guests. They include her docile sister Cati (Marian Alvarez), and her wife-beating husband Juan (Antonio de la Torre), an obnoxious attorney; restaurant owner Ramon (Eduard Fernandez) who has always cherished a soft spot for Elia, much to the disgust of his sharp-spoken wife Martina (Nora Navas), whose hormones are going wild during a middle-aged pregnancy; and high-flying businessman Polo (Alex O’Dogherty), who is visually coded as gay without the narrative making anything of it.
From Elia’s point of view, the most eagerly awaited guest is her ex-boyfriend, musician Mario (Gines Garcia Millan) for whom she’s still carries a torch – and has purchased an incredibly expensive piano. But Mario subverts expectations by showing up with his much younger fiancée, the insufferable, talent-free starlet Claudia (Paula Cancio).
As the guests sit around the table, sharing their latest news, Elia tops them all by divulging her win. While in public they profess their happiness for her, in private, the knives come out.
This clever first act set-up, along with the camera practically caressing the enviable real estate and furnishings and tantalizing food and drink, is the most enjoyable part of the pic. But after a fateful incident between Elia and Mario at approximately the one-hour mark, the remainder of the film moves into a soap opera version of film noir. Unfortunately, there’s no suspense to the sardonic game of who will out venal-whom because of the placement of earlier odd inserts featuring the individual characters talking about their attitude to money.
The question of how far a person is willing to go for a multi-million dollar (or Euro) payout comprises the most interesting part of the script by Querejeta and Antonio Mercero. Although it is played for laughs here, one can visualize a more gripping remake in the style of Chabrol or Hitchcock.
Thesps deliver the soap opera-ish goods, especially the conniving de la Torre and ultimately not-so-dumb bimbo Cancio. As befits the narrative, the craft credits are trendily attractive.