Film Review: Hector and the Search for Happiness
Hector and the Search for Happiness: A superficial feel-good saga with globetrotting escapades as a middle aged man comes to terms with his first world problems.
Based on a novel by the same title by Francois LeLord, London based psychiatrist Hector (Simon Pegg) has everything you could imagine: a lovely home, an intelligent and beautiful girlfriend (Rosamund Pike) and a flourishing career answering his patients’ questions with more questions while he doodles in his notepad.
But as he doles out nuggets of rhetorical hogwash to his self-absorbed clientele he becomes increasingly jaded with his lack of authenticity and decides that the only course of action is to go on a journey to ‘find himself’. Abandoning his job and a rather bewildered Clara he sets off on a journey to find the elusive holy grail of the 21st century: the secret to happiness.
Hector chooses to visit Shanghai where he becomes unlikely friends with a self-indulgent millionaire named Edward (Stellan Skarsgård) who shows him the delights of Chinese food, clubs and women; flies half-way across the world to an unnamed and unspecified African town where amidst unsavoury dalliances with thugs and druglords (Jean Reno) he manages to spend time at the local hospital and then finally, decides to head for the ultimate oasis of spiritual bliss, Los Angeles to meet his former flame and popular scientist (Christopher Plummer) slated to win the Nobel Prize for his research on the side-effects of happiness.
Three hugely diverse destinations, an avalanche of emotional outpouring and a multitude of spiritual epiphanies result in the inevitable happily-ever-after ending. Eat Pray Love has found its male equivalent.
Petr Chelsom’s direction is largely clunky with plots twists typical of the traditional coming-of-age story for a middle aged man who (as the various flashbacks and omniscient narration suggestion) is simply a boy at heart who still loves flying his model aeroplanes.
However, the tonal inconsistencies, awkward placements, blurring between travelogue, dramedy and even animation may suggest it might have worked better as a comic strip, not unlike Tin Tin who is our hero’s hero. The film is firmly entrenched in the genre of seeking-beyond-what-you-have-only-to-discover-you-had-it-at-the-very-beginning and affirms, somewhat sadly, that these searches are often a luxury afforded to a select few.
The film promises to be one of substance and yet although its dollop of humour is mostly successful it is disappointing in its delivery. Running at almost 114 minutes the story simply lacks the depth to be sustained and its mish-mash of different styles is mildly entertaining at best and frustrating at worst.
The majority of its appeal lies in the performances of its cast. While Pegg’s character is mostly over-obtuse, his naivety is so child-like that you almost forgive him for being so myopic in his expectations of salvation. Similarly Pike is an elegant, liberated woman who also comes to her own realization while her boyfriend is on his worldwide jaunt and the various other cast members create equally interesting and convincing characters.
The platitudes which are scribbled throughout the film however are a different matter. Veering on the didactic (happiness is to be loved for who you really are) the simplistic (happiness is being truly alive) occasionally the appealing if somewhat ridiculous (sweet potato stew solves all your problems) they are a list that form the infrastructure of one man’s survival guide as he ventures out into the world. Mostly unimaginative in their insights there are thankfully a few poignant moments that suggest that not every sentiment was cribbed from an e-greeting card. But not quite good enough to make up for the mostly saccharine responses that Hallmark writers could have spewed at a moment’s notice.
But although Hector and the Search for Happiness might have failed for some, others will find enough its quirky lead and his bumbling antics towards an inescapable happily-ever-after ending more than satisfactory.