Review: Hector and the Search for Happiness
REVIEW: HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS is the second film in a year to feature a bored, middle-aged man yearn to escape his humdrum existence and travel the globe in search of adventure and fulfilment. But, where the other one, Ben Stiller's THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY was an uneven mix of fantasy and travelogue, this is more of an adventure film, with Hector's search taking him into far more dangerous territory than Mitty ever would have dared venture.
At one point, a character refers to Pegg's Hector as the Indiana Jones of happiness and that's totally the vibe director Peter Chelsom (who also co-authored the screenplay) is going for. With Hector's rationale being that you can't know happiness without having experienced fear and sadness, his travels take him to rough places, including a surprisingly sordid romantic detour in China, and a violent episode in Africa, where he runs afoul of a drug lord (Jean Reno) and militia leaders. Pretty heavy stuff for a comedy.
While this may sound pretty ambitious for what's being sold as a light British comedy, Chelsom comes a lot closer to pulling it off than you'd think, with a good chunk of the movie really working well. This is due in no small part to Simon Pegg, who gives an extremely winning performance as Hector. He comes off as a warm, affable guy, and he's a pleasant person to follow around on his adventures. It's believable that a lot of people he'd meet along the way, including Stellan Skarsgard as a cynical businessman in China (with some location photography there seeming to have been shot under-the-radar), and Toni Collette as an ex-flame he meets up with in L.A, would be willing to indulge him in his quest.
It's only really in this LA-based episode where HECTOR starts to falter, with a plot device involving a psychiatrist played by Christopher Plummer, and his machine that analyzes emotion seeming a little too convenient a way to wrap things up. It's also worth noting that Hector can occasionally seem a bit doltish, with him leaving behind his girlfriend, who as played by Pike seems like the kindest and most gorgeous woman in all of Britain, to go sow his wild oats. Something a little more substantial for Pike to play would have made this section a little easier to swallow. She's too idealized and under-appreciated, which doesn't exactly make you feel for Hector and his mid-life crisis.
At the same time, Pegg makes it work, and while the last chunk of the movie isn't as well thought-out as the rest, it's still an entertaining, utterly pleasant ride. The pace is fairly jaunty, and much of the location photography (with footage from China looking like it was shot in a hush-hush way) is quite pretty to look at. It's totally candy-coated and obvious in it's desire to be feel-good entertainment. But, if you're open to it, it has a little something for everyone action, romance, drama, etc. While not for the more cynical of us, HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS is, for lack of a better word pleasant. Anything wrong with that?
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