Film Review: ‘The Mystery of Happiness’

A consistently entertaining comedy with plenty of cross-over potential that did boffo biz at home.

Guillermo Francella, Ines Estevez, Alejandro Awada, Sergio Boris, Fabian Arenillas, Silvina Escudero, Ponchy Brusse, Maria Fiorentino, Jairo Garcia, Michel Milagros, Claudia Ohana, Alejandro Polledo, Silvana Sosto. (Spanish dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3302594/reference

Few helmers today make comedies as consistently entertaining as those of Argentina’s Daniel Burman, and “The Mystery of Happiness” is no exception. Often called the Woody Allen of Latin America, Burman delivers the goods with a reliable brand of pleasant, relationship-based humor tied to solid production values: His latest, geared toward a mature demographic, charts the shockwaves that result when an outwardly content businessman abandons his wife and best friend. Following an early 2014 home release, “Happiness” has outpaced even the director’s previous successes (“Lost Embrace,” “Empty Nest”); international sales have been strong, and Strand’s Stateside release could see modest biz if marketed right.

Eugenio (Fabian Arenillas) and Santiago (Guillermo Francella, “The Secret in Their Eyes”) are in perfect synchronicity: Whether at the home appliance shop they co-own or during their off hours at the barber, the race track or the shoe shop, their partnership is so perfect that their very movements are seamlessly coordinated. Life is great, and for Santiago the only improvement would be to expand the store. Eugenio, however, tells wife Laura (Ines Estevez, making a welcome return to the bigscreen) that he wants to sell up.

Then, one morning, Eugenio fails to show at work and doesn’t answer his phone. Laura arrives near closing time telling Santiago that Eugenio has ankled, but Santiago can’t believe it: He’s Eugenio’s best friend, he knows everything about him. Feeling even more betrayed than the garrulous, pill-popping Laura, Santiago can’t accept that Eugenio could abandon their friendship.

Popular on Variety

Unsure where to turn, they contact retired Inspector Oudukian (Alejandro Awada), a private dick who, rumor has it, was formerly with Interpol and Mossad. The amusingly caricatured detective offers to coach their investigation: Looking at a photo of Eugenio, he spies a faraway look in the missing man’s eyes, rightly guessing that the guy’s departure was less sudden than his loved ones think.

One the one hand, “The Mystery of Happiness” is about a typical midlife crisis, yet Burman chooses to focus not on the motivations of the guy who bailed (although Eugenio becomes a sympathetic figure despite his cowardly act), but rather on the two people whose lives he anchored. Laura charges into her husband’s office determined to fill his shoes, much to Santiago’s horror, and it becomes clear the marriage wasn’t exactly stellar. Nor, however, was it the footnote of his business partner’s imagining. Santiago thought he was privy to everything in his friend’s life, so it comes as a shock when Laura tells him that Eugenio loved to go dancing, revealing a side that Santiago never imagined existed. And it’s not the only one.

It’s this consideration of the roles of business partner, friend and spouse that gives “Happiness” its individuality. How well do we really know our friends or companions, and what does it say about someone who abandons a lifetime of relationships for the dreams of youth? At the start, Santiago is far more shallow than Eugenio, but as the former learns more about his friend’s life, he undergoes his own self-realization, becoming an individual thanks in part to a growing bond with Laura. Since this is about the rupture of a bromance, Burman doesn’t even hint at feelings that might go beyond friendship.

Collaborating for the second time (after “All In”) with scripter Sergio Dubcovsky, Burman cleaves to to several of his usual themes including marital crisis and male bonding, though unusually, “Happiness” has no parent-child conflicts to work through. The mood is largely bouncy, the dialogue spry, and the actors, who include some of Argentina’s best-known comic performers, are masters of timing and couldn’t be better suited to their roles. Burman’s ability to deliver a slick, warm-hearted package is again in evidence, with an added touch of visual playfulness.

Film Review: 'The Mystery of Happiness'

Reviewed at Rio de Janeiro Film Festival, Sept. 29, 2014. (Also in Sydney Film Festival.) Running time: 98 MIN. (Original title: “El misterio de la felicidad”)

Production: (Argentina-Brazil) A Walt Disney Co. (in Argentina)/H2O Films (in Brazil) release of a BD Cine, Total Entertainment, Telefe, Miravista production. (International sales: FilmSharks, Buenos Aires.) Produced by Diego Dubcovsky, Daniel Burman, Walkiria Barbosa, Marcos Didonet, Wilma Lustosa. Executive producers, Jimena Blanco, Diego Dubcovsky. Co-producer, Axel Kuschevatzky.

Crew: Directed by Daniel Burman. Screenplay, Sergio Dubcovsky, Burman. Camera (color, widescreen), Daniel Ortega; editor, Luis Barros; music, Nico Cota; production designer, Margarita Tamborino; art director, Alexandre Meyer; costume designer, Roberta Pesci; sound (Dolby 5.1), Jesica Suarez, Zeze d’Alice; associate producer, Alfredo Odorisio; assistant director, Luis Bernardez; casting, Alejandra Uz.  

With: Guillermo Francella, Ines Estevez, Alejandro Awada, Sergio Boris, Fabian Arenillas, Silvina Escudero, Ponchy Brusse, Maria Fiorentino, Jairo Garcia, Michel Milagros, Claudia Ohana, Alejandro Polledo, Silvana Sosto. (Spanish dialogue)

More Film

  • Ariel Winograd'TOD@S CAEN' film premiere, Los

    Viacom International Studios Signs First Look Deal with Ariel Winograd (EXCLUSIVE)

    MADRID  — Adding to a powerful and still growing talent roster, Viacom International Studios (VIS) has clinched a first-look deal with Argentine writer-director Ariel Winograd whose latest movie, “The Heist of the Century,” has just become one of the biggest Argentine openers in history. The multi-year pact takes in the development and production of not [...]

  • William Bogert Dead: 'Small Wonder' Actor

    William Bogert, Who Appeared in 'War Games,' 'Small Wonder,' Dies at 83

    TV, film and theater actor William Bogert, who appeared in a recurring role on 1980s sitcom “Small Wonder” and in films such as “War Games,” died Jan. 12 in New York. He was 83. On “Small Wonder,” which ran from 1985 to 1989, Bogert played Brandon Brindle, the Lawsons’ neighbor and Harriet’s father who became [...]

  • 1917 Movie

    Why '1917' Is the Last Film That Should Be Winning the Oscar (Column)

    There’s a feeling I always get at the end of a long Oscar night when the movie that won isn’t a terrible choice, but it’s the safe, blah, MOR predictable choice, the one that conforms to the dullest conventional wisdom about the kinds of movies Oscar voters prefer, because in the core of their being [...]

  • Civil Rights Drama 'Praying for Sheetrock'

    Civil Rights Drama 'Praying for Sheetrock' in the Works as Feature Film (EXCLUSIVE)

    Enderby Entertainment is developing a feature film based on Melissa Fay Greene’s civil rights drama “Praying for Sheetrock,” Variety has learned exclusively. The non-fiction book, published in 1991, was a finalist for the National Book Award and won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize, Georgia Historical Society Bell Award and the ACLU National Civil [...]

  • Jared Harris arrives at the 26th

    No, Jared Harris is Not Playing Doctor Octopus in Marvel's 'Morbius'

    The first-ever trailer for Marvel and Sony’s next Spider-man spinoff “Morbius” left comic book fans reeling with theories. While the plight of the main character, Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) – a scientist dying of a rare blood disease who accidentally turns himself into a vampire – seemed ripped right out of the comics, the [...]

  • SAG Awards 2020: What You Didn't

    SAG Awards 2020: From Charlize Theron to 'Parasite,' What You Didn't See on TV

    Brad Pitt made a crack about his marriages. Robert De Niro got political. And Jennifer Aniston talked about appearing in a commercial for Bob’s Big Boy. Those were just some of thing that happened on stage at the SAG Awards that were broadcast on TNT/TBS on Sunday night. However, Variety was inside the Shrine Auditorium [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content