In ‘As Luck Would Have It’ an Ad Man Pitches Himself

Behold the specimen to be examined: one unemployed advertising executive, moving from desperate to despondent, ashamed that he’s failed his wife and family. As Luck Would Have It subjects this organism to various probings and proddings in an effort to see to what lengths it will go when it becomes a commodity to be marketed.

In case we miss this point, director Álex de la Iglesia drops his hero onto an array of steel reinforcing bars, one of which sinks halfway into his brain, immobilizing him “like a fucking insect stuck to a needle”, as the character himself observes.

After failing to convince his old boss to rehire him, Roberto Gómez (José Mota), has returned to the hotel where he and his wife Luisa (Salma Hayek) honeymooned 20 years before, hoping to book a room for their anniversary. Instead of the hotel he finds the recently discovered Roman amphitheater that the local museum is restoring. After blundering into the off-limits construction site, Roberto finds himself clutching an ancient statue dangling from a crane, from which he eventually falls onto the half-built stage.

While Roberto attempts to orchestrate the media frenzy set in motion by his accident, Luisa lobbies for the medical care her husband needs and parries his efforts, and those of an increasing array of politicians, reporters, and media moguls, to exploit his condition.

“You can’t hire an agent and turn this into a circus”, Luisa says. We get it. The excavated amphitheater, the armless, headless female bust to which Roberto clings before his fall: de la Iglesia has laid bare the crass commercialism governing modern life and the primitive impulses that motivate it. Roberto wants to provide for his family, but also feed his ego. His agent desires to represent his client, but yearns for the big deal that will cement his reputation. The mayor publicly works toward an amicable resolution, yet privately threatens to sue Roberto.

Outsized props point to forces beyond individuals’ control. Roberto walks past giant white letters spelling “NO” in his former boss’s office after he delivers his fruitless plea for work. When Luisa argues with Roberto’s agent Johnny, they blunder into a giant, carved hand with index finger extended, which shatters on the ground, echoed by the wagging finger Luisa raises as she tells off the agent.

They are the exaggerated gestures and props of theater, and all the characters seem to know their roles. “It’s showtime”, Johnny announces. “Take it easy and let the story build” cautions Roberto. After Luisa scolds him for calling her a hot tamale on camera, Roberto explains that he was in character. It’s all for show. Or is it?

The worrisome conclusion of As Luck Would Have It invites us understand that show is all there is. “Making money is what life is all about”, Roberto tells Luisa. True, Luisa remains the one person able to remain aloof from the profit motive. “How much do you think I’m worth?” Roberto asks. “You’re worth everything”, she replies, willfully misunderstanding him.

And sure, the couple cherish each other and their two teenaged children. Still, the warmest moment of the film comes early when the two sing the legendary 1971 Coca-Cola jingle, “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.” At 17, Roberto claims, he suggested the Spanish equivalent of Coke’s tagline “it’s the real thing”—“la chispa de la vida” (the Spanish title of the film)—to a room of ad execs.

Even more than their honeymoon, this watershed moment (a clever bit of historical fiction à la Mad Men) defines Roberto; Luisa has embraced it as well. Late in the film, Roberto offers a solo reprise of the tune, where you might instead expect a hymn or prayer. It’s the refrain of this theater experiment. Pigeonholed early in life, it isn’t a surprise that Roberto comes to embraces the needle upon which his fortune depends.

RATING 6 / 10