It has oft been said, and yes I’m about to say it again, that there is nothing new under the sun.
Everything that can be said has been said in one form or another meaning that if you’re going to make use of any frequently-used, been-there-done-that elements that you had better do something remarkable with them or at least noteworthy or amusing.
A Stroke of Luck (Villaviciosa de la Lado), directed by Nacho G. Velilla, manages to heed this sage piece of advice with gusto, recycling more tropes than you can poke a hero’s journey arc at, and doing so with a ridiculously engaging sense of fun and silliness.
It gives you everything you could possibly want in an over the top screwball comedy and then some, even managing to shoehorn in some reasonably meaningful motivations for a number of key characters, providing the kind of substance that makes the humour a little bittersweet, elevating the film in the process to something a little more than comically average.
The setting, and this is crucial, is a country town in Spain that one characters observes is “in the middle of nowhere”, populated by the the usual roster of quirky, off ball characters that gives farces their life and breath.
You have the self-obsessed mayor Anselmo (Leo Harlem), who may or may not have spent all the town’s spare money on a statue of himself at a roundabout; he defends the expense as a symbol of visible democracy, but with the town’s chief source of income and employment, the nearby 200 year old spa close to being shut down due to substantial debts, the expenditure is dubious at best, possibly illegal at worst.
He is opposed at every turn by the town’s resident communist Ricardo (Carlos Santos) who has moved to Villaviciosa with his wife Elisa (Belén Cuesta) who, it turns out, is not so quite enamoured about fighting the good fight from Madrid’s capitalist delights.
Notable too is Juandi (Antonion Pagudo), a man who dresses impeccably, is adamant he isn’t gay to anyone who will listen (he is, of course) and who, in an absurdist twist, is the main recipient of services at the local brothel owned by the town’s resident outcast Mari (Carmen Machi) who suffers the slings and arrows of disapproval from the women in the town in a bid to make things to her deceased father. (She left town heavily pregnant and unmarried is her late teens creating a rift with her father than she now deeply regrets.)
The direct opposite of Mari, at least as far as the hypocritical burghers of town is concerned, is Anselmo’s son Carlos (Jon Plazola) whose marriage to Merche (Corina Randazzo), with whom he is, naturally enough, manifestly unsuited, could be the salvation of the town if her father contributes as promised to the spa’s coffers.
He is in love though with sweet girl next door prostitute Sole (Macarena García) who is only engaged in the world’s oldest profession because it’s the only way to save her mother from defaulting on her home loan.
It’s a broad, brushstroke of a set-up that is set into hilarious over the top motion when the results of the latest Spanish lottery are announced.
Mari has given favoured clients, which includes pretty much all the men of the town who, if words gets out, and it does, have a lot of explaining to do to very unhappy wives, tickets to the lottery meaning that a whole lot of people in cash-strapped Villiviciosa are now 80,000 Euros better off.
If only they can collect their winnings which proves problematic because Mari gave out too many tickets, and because the women of the town are keeping an eagle-eyed vigil on the brothel to determine who the wayward husbands are and punish them accordingly.
A Stroke of Luck then spends much of its judiciously-judged running time – it makes good use of its premise without overstaying its welcome – making hilariously merry with husbands who want their money without being found out, wives who are determined to catch them red-handed, lovers who can’t quite manage to get it together and a woman who wants nothing more than to be loved and admired than constantly revised and treated as an outcast.
It is gloriously, brilliantly excessive in just about respect, with nary a well-used trope, overdone character or well-worn premise we haven’t seen a thousand times before, but thanks to the comic magic of its cast, some beautifully timed reveals and a willingness to throw some serious moments in when they’ll do the most good, the film ends up being far more than the sum of its secondhand parts.
And that, my friends, is how you take a concept that could have easily been just another yawn-inducing, country town quirky excursion into wafer-thin hilarity and turn into a robust comedy that more than makes use of its constituent parts.
The characters are neatly and lovingly fleshed out, the lines of dialogue zing and amuse with equal measure, and you are treated to the best race involving a slow moving vehicle since Seinfeld staged its old age scooter race along the streets of New York City.
It’s absurdly, beautifully and delightfully silly in every respect possible, but thanks to its willingness to also wear its heart on its sleeve, it is also a thoroughly engaging story that keeps you laughing and more attached to its characters than you might expect to be in a goofy comedy.
What elevates A Stroke of Luck is that it’s not dumb or stupid; crazy and quirky yes, but not lacking in intelligence of emotional nous and against all odds, you find yourself willing everything to work out for this town of hilariously oddball, fallible people who for all their shortsightedness deserve a break as much as anyone.