Writer, actor, comedian Simon Pegg (Shaun Of The Dead) delivers a stand-out performance in Hector and the Search for Happiness, chronicling a London psychiatrist named Hector who sets out on a global journey to find out what makes people happy. Spawned by his rather predictable lifestyle and the realization that he is not properly serving his patients, Hector realizes that he is not at all exactly sure if he is happy or even what happiness is.
Hector seemingly has a near perfect life. While he appears to be quite a bit of a geek, he has a thriving psychiatric practice, lives in a chic condo, and enjoys the company of an absolutely gorgeous live-in girlfriend who genuinely loves Hector for who he is. She makes his breakfast every morning, along with affixing his tie to his crisp white shirts, and nurses his every other need, all the while maintaining a thriving career of her own.
Hector’s life is orderly and predictable, and this would include his method of psychotherapy which is aloof, condescending, insensitive, and ill-productive. He does not listen to his patients. Instead of taking notes during the therapy session viewers find that he is doodling. He never truly answers any of his patients questions. He avoids response by answering their questions with question of his own.
One of Hector’s patients is a psychic who is seeing him because she has lost what she dubs her “psychic mojo.” This patient one day calls Hector on his aloof style of psychotherapy. She also gives him a psychic reading. The accuracy of her assertions seem to awaken him out of a slumber.
As a result of this new-found awakening, Hector surprises his girlfriend Clara (Rosamund Pike) by telling her that he wants to leave for an indefinite amount of time to travel the world and research what makes people happy. Both realize that Clara will not be able to join him in his travels since her career obligations will not allow it. But the acquiescent Clara gives Hector her blessing, helps him pack, and sends him on his way with a smile. She cleverly conceals a nagging suspicion that Hector’s global trek may mark the end of their union. This all occurs just after Clara discovers an old photograph of Hector posing alongside what appears to be a past love. She chooses not to bring the photo to his attention as he embarks on the first leg of his journey to Shanghai.
Hector’s journey also takes him to Africa where he volunteers at a medical clinic and keeps a journal on his adventures, as well as his misadventures which rear-up at every turn. The final leg of Hector’s journey leads him to Los Angeles, which is the home of the mystery woman in the photograph, Agnes (Toni Collette).
Hector and the Search for Happiness is directed by Peter Chelsom and written for the screen by Chelsom, Maria Von Heland, and Tinker Lindsay. It was adapted from the Francois Lelord novel Le voyage d’Hector ou la recherche de bonheur. It is a tad difficult to fathom that it took three souls to adapt this story to the screen and perhaps this is why Hector and the Search for Happiness does not seem to know what it is saying or doing. It is choppy, and while each chapter of Hector’s journey skillfully holds the attention of the audience, the story is cluttered and lacks direction. One might suspect that the novel was far more grounded and purposefully written.
Hector at once appears to be a geek with inadequate social skills and yet another 30 minutes into the film the geek seems to vanish. Viewers are left somewhat baffled with regard to who Hector is and exactly why he is on this particular quest. Hector seems to have no problem whatsoever adapting to his constant new surroundings and bares hardly any resemblance at all to the aloof and nerdish character depicted in the first 20 minutes of the film. It is a loop that is difficult to digest.
The saving grace of this production is the solid performance by Simon Pegg as Hector. As well as prime performances from the entire cast, including a cameo appearance by the legendary Christopher Plummer who portrays a celebrated researcher on the subject of happiness and the human brain. Toni Collette as Agnes brims over with dramatic appeal, but neither she, nor Plummer, nor Pegg can save this production from its state of debilitating clutter and off-path wandering.
Chelsom’s direction is superior. Each and every one of Chelsom’s scenes pop with vitality and buoyancy. The cinematography is enchanting. It is the writing that so utterly fails this production and it is a pity. This film was actually a pleasure to watch, but analytically misses its mark.
Rated R and running for 114 minutes, Hector and the Search for Happiness may prove to be an enjoyable watch for those who can get past the clutter and its failure to ground itself in believability.
By Janet Walters Levite