Hector and the Search for Happiness

Directed By: Peter Chelsom

Starring: Simon Pegg, Toni Collette, Rosamund Pike, Stellan Skarsgård, Jean Reno, and Christopher Plummer

When I reflect on what happiness means to me, I think of the moments when I'm most serene.  For a guy who used to live out of a suitcase like me, the answer surprisingly lies in the skyways and wherever they take me.  It's about getting unplugged from the world around me and seeing the new beautiful places this world has to offer.  When I think of those places where I've been at absolute peace, I think of visiting Cabo da Roca on a sunny yet cool day.  I think of taking a leisurely stroll one afternoon through Parque del Retiro in Madrid.  I think of wandering and getting lost in Villa Borghese for no good reason whatsoever.  Simply put, it's international travel that makes me happy.  Unlike Simon Pegg's character in Hector and the Search for Happiness, I wish there was a rich pattern in my life, one that involved earning quite a few frequent flier miles without the hassle of traveling or racking up credit card debts.

Hector (Pegg) and his girlfriend Clara (Rosamund Pike) live a very neatly patterned life in London.  Hector is a psychiatrist.  He's built a solid client base charging the same rate for years.  For fun, he flies model WWII biplanes with a remote control.  Clara is a successful professional in the pharmaceutical industry.  She's built a career at the company at which she works with her most recent success being the launch of a new drug called Tranqualine.  Her largest accomplishment according to her boss is never saying the words "maternity" or "leave" to him.  Neither Hector nor Clara are living particularly happy lives, and Hector is starting to take notice.

After dealing with one too many sad, annoying tales of his patients' unhappy lives, Hector loses control and snaps at one of his clients.  On this particularly trying day, he loses a customer.  However, he finds a mission, to understand what makes people happy.  Hector decides to do a little soul-searching and to go on a journey.  He doesn't know where he's going.  He doesn't know how long he'll be gone.  He doesn't know if Clara will be in London waiting for him when he gets back.  Still, he finds it within himself to take a hiatus from his neatly patterned life and to do something random to try and understand what brings people joy.  He starts by going to China where he meets wealthy banker Edward (Stellan Skarsgård).  Along this journey across several continents, he encounters UCLA Happiness Studies Professor Coreman (Christopher Plummer), African drug lord Diego (Jean Reno), and the old flame whose picture remains in his sock drawer Agnes (Toni Collette).

Though I know what makes me happy, I don't profess to be an expert on happiness.  Still, I would expect to walk out of Hector and the Search for Happiness overcome with joy or some other emotion.  After all, the film is all about self-examination and should make moviegoers think on what puts a smile on each of their faces.  Peter Chelsom's quirky romantic comedy doesn't pack the emotional punch that would elevate it to greatness.  While stylistically, Chelsom employs all the techniques that should result in a sugary, joyous sentiment among viewers, he spends too much of his time beating us over the head with metaphors.  We all get that the journey is a period of emotional growth for Hector.  There's no need to cut from the story to show an image of the boy Hector whimpering like a little girl.  It certainly doesn't help that the film is a comedy of convenience built upon neatly packaged comedic setups and very little genuine humor.

The performances from the cast are decent, but nothing to shout about.  For his part as our titular character Hector, Simon Pegg delivers his typical, slightly goofy brand of humor.  He tries to make us laugh far more times than he actually succeeds.  For her part as Clara, Rosamund Pike does a bit of over-acting for a romantic comedy.  We all get that her character is having a tough time dealing with life as a thirtysomething single woman with no kids and a boyfriend across the globe for no good reason.  She just spends a bit too much time trying to show it in an overly expressive performance.  The other supporting cast members — including the likes of Toni Collette, Stellan Skarsgård, Christopher Plummer, and Jean Reno — all play on their on-screen personas and don't bring that much to the table from an acting standpoint.

I could go on and on about Peter Chelsom's film, but I'll keep things simple.  Hector and the Search for Happiness simply doesn't find what it's looking for. With its overly obvious symbolism, its lack of comedy, and its mixed bag of performances, the film does anything but leave moviegoers happy.  It's just not the fun, joyous movie it should be.  Hector and the Search for Happiness gets a 0.09% rating.  Have some mojitos with this one.