Living Is Easy (With Eyes Closed) wants to be a light treat of a film, but becomes so weightless as to just be annoying. It contains several cues for affection – pretty landscapes, simple humour, a plot infused with nostalgia for Beatlemania – but rattles them off so listlessly as to squander the few chances to be engaged in the characters or setting. For all the minutes it spends listening to its cast and gazing at the Spanish locations, we somehow leave without being any wiser about either of them than when we started.
The movie follows an odd trio of people in 1960s Spain, who embark from their small town to the country in the hope of meeting John Lennon on the set of How I Won the War.1 Obviously central of the three is Antonio (Javier Camara), a boisterous Beatles aficionado who teaches the band’s lyrics as part of his elementary English class. He has a lot to say throughout, little more engaging than an over-sharing Facebook friend, so there’s paltry depth for Camara to sink into. He tries his charming best, but the script hands him dime-store philosophising that starts bland (ruminations on musical taste, conformity, middle age) and becomes infuriating, particularly when he gives his teenage companion Juanjo (Francesc Colomer) the creaky “women are a mystery” dress-down after their ride-along Belen (Natalia de Molina) becomes elusive. It’s an irritating quirk that slides into creepy hypocrisy, and that’s troubling when he has the lion’s share of the dialogue.
Another unfortunate outcome is that the two young adults in Antonio’s care don’t have a great deal to do, since the film does such a poor job of making their home concerns consistently present. Juanjo and Belen have their internal conflicts presented very early on in a scattershot prologue – father-son issues and an unplanned pregnancy respectively – but neither are resolved with anything but wheel-spinning angst. Colomer plays a runaway from a stifling home life who takes on a waiting job at a roadside bar. A scene follows where he runs afoul of local thugs, which the film would like to register as a powerful analogy for that time period’s youth but can only convey the character’s pouty sadness at losing his McCartney-emulating hair. Somewhat more interesting is de Molina, who in her role demonstrates a tempered view on romance and aspiration, but has little else to do beyond react to Camara’s antics, making their later gestures of love and respect to each other feel perilously empty. It’s the kind of writing that sees drama as a metonym for seriousness, since for all its pages of dialogue it can’t resolve the tension it drums up with any satisfaction, and just goes through beats that feel weakly predetermined.2
The semi-veracity of the story, where it fills in a foggy historical event with its own speculated fiction, places it somewhat in the same cross-genre territory as Me & Orson Welles or Kumiko the Treasure Hunter. Both of those have a sting of realism and a powerfully compelling lead performance at their centres, and this one shoots for the same relevancy but feels toothless by comparison.3 To be fair, the friction between older and younger generations is fittingly tangential given the effect that the Beatles had on their ardent fans in their “Please Please Me” era, and Antonio’s presence as someone stranded in that divide shows the appeal the narrative must have had on paper. It can’t muster that appeal onscreen, being too dulled by weak plotting and a Little Miss Sunshine kind of safe cheekiness that makes its recent bid for the Best Foreign Film Oscar unsurprising.
For all the boredom, the exotic countryside is at least highlighted in resplendent wide shots. The period-detailed production design and costuming is wonderful, and it’s shot in exactly the comfortable style to be reasonably expected of a hazy road trip, so it’s good to look at throughout.4 However, it’s paired with a tale that excises any and all texturing ellipses both through scriptwriting and jumpy editing, thus killing momentum as quickly as the trundling Fiat that Antonio drives around in.5 It lets Antonio yabber away for so long that its supporters become peripheral, with a brusque hotel owner and his disabled son feeling especially supplementary. Even the obvious climax of their trek to Lennon’s film shoot is a perfunctory box to tick before we’re sent out on on the tune of “Strawberry Fields Forever,” a great song that holds the titular lyric and more power than the sequence – and the film – it’s aggressively trying to lift.
As fruitlessly starry-eyed as its protagonist, Living Is Easy is not much of anything; not uplifting, compelling, or even so terrible as to inspire morbid curiosity. It certainly doesn’t have the perspective on its historical period that a cinephile might crave; they are better served by films of the Franco era (Carlos Saura et al) or those with the actual Beatles in them. Any afternoon crowds craving a nostalgic travelogue will find pleasures too fitfully to justify the two hours spent. Despite moments of decent visual craft, it gracelessly avoids the work of being inspiring, and uses the runtime labouring under the impression that it already has, until it becomes a labour to watch.