Hector and the Search for Happiness is stuffed full of stupid motivational poster advice; but who cares, because it’s a mindless and enjoyable piece of fluff all the same. Held together by Simon Pegg’s characteristically charismatic performance, it bounces around from one amusing vignette to another before realising that happiness was at home the whole time. And that’s fine, for a little fun.
Director: Peter Chelsom
Screenplay: Maria von Heland, Peter Chelsom, Tinker Lindsay. Novel by François Lelord.
Runtime: 120 minutes.
Cast: Simon Pegg, Rosamund Pike, Stellan Skarsgård, Toni Collette.
Reviewed by Drew Ninnis.
Viewed as part of the Canberra International Film Festival.
Plot: Hector is a psychiatrist grown weary with his life and enviably privileged but dull routine, wondering if he truly helps his patients feel any better or simply profits off their dependency. Thus challenged one day he decides to strike off into the world, keeping a journal as he meets a cast of characters and inquires into the sources of their happiness. From Africa, to China, to Tibet, to Los Angeles, Hector finally comes to the realisation that true happiness lies at home.
Festival Goers? If you need a boost, see it.
Review: Those who are searching something meaningful within Hector and the Search for Happiness are likely to come away bitter and disappointed. Those who are looking for some mindless cheer in a charming package are likely to have some fun with this latest frothy confection, helmed by the buoyant Simon Pegg. Punctuated throughout with obnoxiously written-on-screen bits of pop-psychology, and arranged in a hero’s next quest fashion, the film does not look promising from the outset and has drawn the ire of critics with its relentlessly upbeat, although adult exploration of the roots of happiness. But perhaps the critics have gotten a little too bitter and twisted in their assessment of endless mainstream fare; because Hector and the Search of Happiness does contain the spark of something a little different and quirky to help ease the journey and entertain the audience. There aren’t any startling, Bergmann-esque statements on the nature of man’s existence within this film, but that’s fine.
Instead, the film aims for a little fun as audiences switch off and relax; achieving that modest goal through some fine performances and an inventive approach to conveying the action. The film proves that mindless entertainment can still have a little pluck and respectability to it; and that mindless doesn’t need to mean lobotomised. There’s even a particularly neat appearance from Patrick Stewart as a neuroscientist at the end, in a well-written part that could give Lucy lessons on how to do science in an accessable and not entirely stupid way.
The film follows a full of energy Simon Pegg as Hector, the titular psychiatrist looking for more fulfilment in his life and wondering what could have been with old flame Agnes (Toni Collette). This is news to his successful and uptight girlfriend Clara (the perpetually luminous Rosamund Pike), who gives him begrudging permission to take a break and travel around the world in search of happiness. Befriended by a rich businessman in Hong Kong (Stellan Skarsgård, in the usual father-of-the-bride role), who convincingly demonstrates that money can only rent it. Off to Tibet, Hector receives some cryptic insights from isolated Buddhist monks before turning to Africa and the good work of volunteer doctors there. Eschewing the usually saccharine, the film takes a turn for the darker when Hector’s experiences there turn out to be far more life-threatening than he guessed. Finally clear of the worst, he heads to L.A. and a confrontation with aforementioned old flame Agnes. The conclusion is as predictable as the rest of the film; resulting in a happy ending and a changed Hector.
There’s a bit of unfair vitriol directed at the film, and I put that down to the presence of some admittedly stupid pop psychology; the worn aphorisms of which we are sick of seeing on motivational posters. But smart audience members will push that to the side, and focus on the heartening vignettes as Pegg stumbles from one ludicrous situation to another. Plane travel also features heavily, no doubt with many seasoned travellers envying his luck. There’s some great animation to speed along the film – as Hector fills his journal with drawings of his journey – and some tongue in cheek jokes at the clichéd nature of the journey itself. The film really is enjoyable enough on its own terms; unlikely to receive a Criterion Collection release, but wise enough not to take itself too seriously. I’d recommend audience members do the same; and take a brief break from portraits of urban despair or the unsung heroes of World War Two to enjoy something stupid and fun.
Rating: Three stars.