Running Time: 120 minutes
Director: Peter Chelsom
Cast: Simon Pegg, Rosamund Pike, Stellan Skarsgard, Christopher Plummer, Jean Reno and Toni Collette.
IN these cynical times films like Hector and the Search for Happiness set themselves up as easy targets for ridicule by viewers and critics, dividing opinion with their unashamedly positive outlook and sentimental tone. British Director Peter Chlesom’s latest feature shows no sign of bucking that trend, but then what would you expect from a director who has helmed such outright cheesefests as Serendipity, Shall We Dance and Hannah Montana: The Movie.
Loosely based on a novel by French psychiatrist François Lelord, The film’s plot sees Pegg playing Hector, a well-meaning but socially awkward psychiatrist who sets out to discover the secret to happiness. Convinced he’s a fraud to his patients since he takes so little pleasure from life, Hector packs his bags and embarks on a journey of self-discovery, in a similar vein to Ryan Murphy’s Eat, Pray, Love .
Travelling across the globe to China, Africa and Los Angeles Hector encounters an eclectic mix of individuals along the way. From Stellan Skarsgard’s wealthy businessman, Christopher Plummer’s eccentric university professor to his ex-girlfriend Agnes (Played by Toni Collette), each offer Hector their very different opinions on the subject of happiness.
Personally I’ve always been a sucker for a well done road movie and whilst this film isn’t perfect by any means it’s still not without its charm, most of which comes from Pegg’s comedic central performance. Excluding his work with Edgar Wright on the ‘blood and ice-cream trilogy’ he hasn’t always had the best of records as a leading man, but here he just about holds everything together with his trademark geekish charm.
Sadly though the rest of the film’s cast are left as bit-part players throughout the feature, playing second fiddle to Pegg’s character and given very little to do onscreen Rosamund Pike who plays Hector’s frustrated girlfriend is the film’s weakest link, she gives such a phoned in wooden performance and there’s simply no real chemistry between herself and Pegg.
The film’s overly sentimental, gushy tone is a real problem, at times leaving its moral compass feeling terribly skewed; Hector’s encounter with an escort in China and a strangely sympatric encounter with Jen Reno’s criminal character are notable examples . Equally a sequence in Africa where Hector finds himself held captive just never really worked, it felt shoehorned into the narrative and off kilter with the rest of the feature.
No matter how hard Chlesom’s film tries, its just not the cinematic chicken soup for the soul it wants to be. It naively assumes that viewers will care for Hector’s problems, a wealthy psychiatrist with a bank balance big enough to fund this indulgent globetrotting pursuit. Had another actor been cast in the central role, I probably would have been much harsher on this film, but I’ve a soft spot for Pegg and he’s without doubt the best thing about it.
Despite all its flaws Hector and The Search for Happiness is still a more enjoyable than Ryan Murphy’s nauseatingingly poor Eat, Pray, Love and much more palatable than Ben Stiller’s similarly themed The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. There’s some genuinely touching moments and stylish little animations littered throughout it’s runtime, but like me I’m sure many viewers will find Hector’s conclusion that we all have an obligation to be happy just too hard to swallow.
Review by William McClean