Director: Peter Chelsom
Cast: Simon Pegg, Rosamund Pike, Stellan Skarsgard, Toni Collette, Jean Reno, Ming Zhao, Christopher Plummer
Running Time: 120 Minutes
Release Date: 15th August 2014
Hector (Pegg) is a happy man, you would think. He’s got a job that he’s good at – we know because he tells us in an early voiceover – that surely pays well; he’s a psychiatrist after all. He has a beautiful, independently successful, live-in girlfriend in Clara (Pike). He has a passion for things – adventure stories from Tintin and Biggles adorn his bookshelf. He’s slim, personable and seems to get plenty of exercise.
But Hector isn’t happy. He is tired of trying to make others happy and, rather ironically, frustrated with the inanity of their problems. But a chance encounter with an old gypsy lady – her pronunciation of happiness is funny the first time it sounds like ‘a penis’, but not so after the joke has been repeated ad nauseam – and an outburst at a patient means it’s time for Hector to re-evaluate his entire life.
Hector jets off to China, followed by Africa and then to LA where he meets up with an old flame Agnes (Collette), all in the search for the true meaning of happiness. Along the way, he readily makes friendships with all-comers, be they investment banker Edward (Skarsgard), drug baron Diego (Reno), a Buddhist monk or a nice, poor African woman who makes a beautiful sweet potato stew.
He also thinks he’s befriended the lovely Ying Li (Zhao) but she’s obviously a prostitute paid for by Edward. He takes her back to his hotel but he falls asleep before anything happens; a waste because she’s obviously a prostitute. He then meets up with her for lunch, which is strange because she’s obviously a prostitute. By the time Ying Li tells Hector she can’t return to her own village because of the shame, you find yourself almost screaming “SHE’S OBVIOUSLY A PROSTITUTE, HECTOR, FOR GOD’S SAKE!” So blind is Hector to it, he requires a pimp to explain the situation before he finally gets it.
And that’s the problem with Hector, and ultimately the film. Hector is so unendingly, pathetically, gormlessly blind as to what is going on around him that he’s hard to empathise with or relate to. He’s an emotional Mr Magoo without the comic slapstick to match. Even the usually charming Pegg can’t make Hector an appealing character.
There are a few interesting and thought-provoking scenes which just about make Hector and The Search for Happiness watchable but overall it is mawkish, twee and ultimately shallow. Late on Agnes tells Hector that he’s ‘emotionally squeamish’. For the character, read the film.
If you’re on the search for happiness, look elsewhere.