REVIEW: Hector and the Search for Happiness
Given the genre cred of Simon Pegg and the ascendance of Rosamund Pike, I approached Hector and the Search for Happiness with a certain level of curiosity. I was unfamiliar with the original novel by French author Francois Lelord and somehow missed the film’s release back in September. 20th Century Home Entertainment resolved that with the release today of the film on DVD.
In short, the film is about a psychiatrist, Hector (Pegg), who wants to shake up his tedious life. He doesn’t feel like he’s good at his job or able to help people, and laments to his girlfriend Clara (Pike) that he has yet to sample the very experience he recommends to his clients. As a result, he goes walkabout, seeking to taste life and find happiness. Then things happen.
It’s a charming premise and certainly well-trod territory but one expects, well, more from the story, especially considering the strong cast, anchored by Pegg and Pike but also including Toni Collette, Stellan Skarshard, Jean Reno, and Christopher Plummer. Perhaps it has something to do with the many hands — Peter Chelsom, Francis Lelord, Tinker Lindsay, Maria von Heland, and François Lelord — to handle the adaptation. Chelsom (Hannah Montana: The Movie) directed the film which attempts to be motivationally uplifting but somehow comes across as a journey filled with good intentions, rarely delivering on the promise.
Considering his long-term relationship, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for Hector to leave Clara behind rather than share the experience with her. After all, they do not have children and surely she can take a break from naming pharmaceuticals. Instead, he waves cheerio and leaves London from China and Shanghai exotic nightlife as seen by a wealthy businessman (Skarsgard). After mistaking true love for prostitution (Ming Zhao), he hightails it to Africa where he reconnects with an old friend (Barry Atsma). The humanitarian work is rejuvenating but he somehow gets mixed up with a drug dealer (Reno).
All the way, he is writing fortune cookie-worthy sayings in his notebook, these bon mots clearly becoming his new guiding principles. In case you miss the message they appear on screen, bringing his notebook to annoying life. As a result, he also wants to make amends so completes his travel in Los Angeles where he seeks out an old flame (Collette). While they, he just happens to find a leading happiness researcher (Plummer), so participates in a brain study.
The film is pretty to look at and the performances are solid uninspiring, much like the script. The intentions are noble and honorable, but Pegg mined a similar theme with far better results in The World’s End. His need for fulfillment, while missing the obvious back home, remains a truism but it’s annoying that Clara feels empty without a child, the worst sort of feminist message.
The film is accompanied by the short Around the World with Simon Pegg, a travelogue that’s wittier than the film. There’s The Making of Hector and the Search for Happiness which shows lots of noble intentions gone awry. Chelsom provides an audio commentary that, to be honest, I skipped given my overall disappointment with the final product.