Home Video Hovel: The Mystery of Happiness, by Sarah Brinks
A lucky few people find a person in their life that they connect with on so many levels, they begin to think they are two halves of a whole. These types of friendships are rare and special. This is the way it is for Eugenio and Santiago in The Mystery of Happiness. They have been friends most of their lives, and do everything together: eat, play tennis, own a small electronics shop; they even fell in love with the same woman years ago. The opening of the film, when we see them doing everything together, reminded me of an extended “Double Mint” commercial from the 1980’s. One day, Eugenio doesn’t come to work. His wife doesn’t know where he is, and neither does Santiago. He just disappears. Santiago has to learn to live his life without Eugenio.
Santiago and Eugenio’s wife Laura begin to look for him. They employ an eccentric former-Mossad agent to help them find him. However, he is more of a spirit guide then an actual private investigator. Laura and Santiago are oil and water in the beginning, the complete opposite of the dynamic the two men had. Laura starts to help run the electronics store in Eugenio’s absence, and gets on Santiago’s nerves. She is constantly taking pills and pushing his boundaries. Santiago is lost without his friend, struggling to find his own identity. Slowly, they learn more about each other and learn to live without Eugenio, even though they still search him and he remains their main connection.
Though the set-up is somewhat novel, I feel like I have seen it a number of times before in slightly different variations. The equation is simple: man and woman don’t get along + life event that forces them together = they fall in love. This is Something’s Got to Give, Romancing the Stone, and What Women Want (among others) all over again. I never really cared enough about Santiago and Laura or even Eugenio to really invest in them finding him or not. I’m a bit of a romantic sap so I enjoyed the way Santiago and Laura learned to get along and eventually become friends (and maybe even more then friends), but it was just never fully engaging. The pacing is problematic, and really there was never a sense of urgency to find Eugenio or fill the gap he left.
Though generally a lighthearted comedy, the film isn’t afraid to delve a little deeper. The major theme it explores is defining the truth of “self.” It also explores what it is like to be middle-aged and settled, and then have to deal with a big life change. Santiago is set adrift when Eugenio leaves without warning. He has been an “us” for so long he doesn’t really know how to be a “me.” Laura has a different journey. She finds herself freed by Eugenio’s absence. She still wants to find him, but suddenly she has a purpose to her days by helping at the electronics store. She stops being reliant on pills. Where she struggles is in realizing that maybe she didn’t know the man she was married to as well as she thought she did. She learns from his masseuse that Eugenio had a whole set of dreams that never really included her or their marriage. She is shaken to her core by this information and begins to question what their marriage really was. She never seems to actually miss Eugenio that much, but she misses the idea of him and what their partnership could have been.
I have a hard time recommending the film because I felt so underwhelmed by it overall. It is competently made, the setting is beautiful, and the acting is fine, but nothing about it is very original or exceptional.