UK Release Date: 15th August 2014
Runtime: 120 minutes
Director: Peter Chelsom
Writer: Peter Chelsom, Maria von Heland, Tinker Lindsay
Starring: Simon Pegg, Rosamund Pike, Stellan Skarsgård, Toni Collette, Christopher Plummer
Synopsis: A disgruntled psychiatrist embarks on a trip around the world to discover what it is that makes people truly happy.
On the strength of his career so far, it’s easy to assume that Simon Pegg can do little wrong. His trio of cinematic collaborations with Edgar Wright are excellent and he has made some smart blockbuster choices. He returns to his low-key, light-hearted roots in Hector and the Search for Happiness, but the film is far from plain sailing.
Psychiatrist Hector (Pegg) has settled into an orderly existence with his girlfriend Clara (Rosamund Pike). Outwardly, everything seems wonderful, but there’s something missing for him – he wants to know what makes people happy. With the help of a businessman (Stellan Skarsgård), an old flame (Toni Collette) and an academic (Christopher Plummer), Hector goes on a hell of a journey to find answers.
Hector and the Search for Happiness starts off as a pretty awful movie. The opening act sets up Hector’s life is being what most people would call perfect. He has a gorgeous home, a gorgeous, doting partner and an enviable job. Initially, it’s very easy to hate Hector for being such an ungrateful douchebag.
| "Everything in this world is going up, but happiness is going down."
Matters aren’t helped by the cultural blindness of it all. The film seems oblivious to the fact that its “rich white man looks at what makes poor foreigners happy” premise is alarmingly insensitive. Hector spends a whole spell of the movie in “Africa”, without once bothering to define which part of its 30,000 square kilometres he is visiting.
However, there’s a turning point in the narrative just over halfway through that almost rescues Hector and the Search for Happiness. As horrible things begin to happen to Hector, Simon Pegg switches his performance from smug to deeply vulnerable. It’s a role that he slips into perfectly, suddenly imbuing Hector with some real depth.
Just as Pegg’s performance kicks up a gear, so does the story. It ceases to be a wearisome travelogue and becomes a real exploration of what it means to be content with what you’ve got rather than chasing rainbows. Rosamund Pike rises above the minimal material she is given and Toni Collette packs a punch with her sage advice.
| "More important than what we are searching for is what we are avoiding."
Unfortunately, it all comes just a little too late to rescue Hector and the Search for Happiness from its borderline racist beginnings and dull first hour. It’s clear that there was a good film in there somewhere, but director and co-writer Peter Chelsom just about fails to tease it out.
Pop or Poop?
It’s frustrating how close Hector and the Search for Happiness comes to being yet another success in the career of Simon Pegg.
With a bit of fine-tuning and a more global eye, it could’ve been the warm, witty film teased by its poignant third act. Unfortunately though, it ends up being mediocre at best.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.