Globe-trotting is at the forefront of finding your bliss, according to Hector and the Search for Happiness, a film that tries to answer the question, “What is happy, and where can I get some?”
At the outset, when we meet Hector (Simon Pegg), he’s quite relatable, as voiceover montage demonstrates: He’s an affluent London psychiatrist with a small practice and neatly compartmentalized life, complete with matching supportive girlfriend (Rosamund Pike). But something’s missing for Hector, so after a small meltdown, he decides to pack his bags and set off alone to various continents around the world to discover the secret to happiness and what could make his life more meaningful.
Turns out, Hector is one lucky, if unsettled, guy – whether it’s a chance meeting on a plane with a billionaire businessman (Stellan Skarsgård) who treats him to all the delights money can buy in Hong Kong, or a chance meeting on a plane with a woman (S’Thandiwe Kgoroge) who invites him to have sweet potato stew at her family home in Africa, or a chance meeting on a plane… You get the idea. All of these whirlwind encounters seem designed to get Hector thinking on his quest, and he asks each person to describe what makes them happy. Everyone has an answer and a radiance to them, and it’s a pretty comforting thing to watch, almost to the point where a skeptic could fall asleep.
Without having read the French novel (Francois LeLord) that Hector’s movie journey is based on, I have nothing to keep me from being naive about what Hector experiences. The novel’s details exaggerated on the big screen, set to a rousing, emotional score kind of obliterate the need for making any discoveries and insights of your own into the discussion of happiness. Intimacy with your own thoughts is next to impossible with all the feel-good sensory stuff coming at you. It’s all about Hector, like you’re in his Technicolor dreams.
Even in a scene where Hector finds himself kidnapped by rebels, mostly unpleasantly, director Peter Chelsom still finds a way to lighten the whole thing up by having Hector ask one of the captors, “What makes you happy?” and then scrambling to find a pen so he can write down the answer in his notebook. Simon Pegg handles the irony like the pro that he is, and it’s his performance that keeps things rolling along, until Hector comes full circle to get back to his girlfriend. Rosamund Pike and Toni Collette both show some heart as sincere women who’ve come to love and accept Hector for exactly who he is, a little boring when he’s good and downright cowardly when he’s bad.
As a deep, transformative movie-going experience, Hector and the Search for Happiness doesn’t really rate. In its current, non-Fear-and-Loathing (à la Terry Gilliam) state, it’s probably just a nice movie to take the whole family to. No skeptics allowed, of course.
Hector and the Search for Happiness opens Friday September 26.