Hector (Simon Pegg) is a psychiatrist, who discovers that he is wildly unhappy in his perfectly ordered life. Taking a chance, and leaving his girlfriend Clara (Rosamund Pike) behind, Hector heads on a trip around the world to find out what makes people happy, with the hope that he will find some happiness of his own.
The question of what makes people happy is one that has engaged us for a long time. Be it simple pleasures or more complicated ones, it seems that humankind is on a constant search to be happy – whether we know it or not. With Hector and the Search for Happiness, however, Simon Pegg knows exactly what he wants from his travels around the world.
Before I go any further, I should confess that I am a fan of Simon Pegg; he has made some great TV and movies in the past – and he is a genuinely nice guy – but it seems that his endeavours outside a franchise, in the leading role or without the steady hand of Edgar Wright are not quite what they should be. How to Lose Friends and Alienate People was disappointing, and A Fantastic Fear of Everything was weird, without ever quite being weird enough. Hector and the Search for Happiness has the same sort of problem. It could be that Pegg is not actually cut out to be a leading man, or it could be that he chooses odd and unfinished projects. Whatever the case, Pegg is fine in the role as Hector; he is warm and engaging, but the changes the character goes through feel forced and a little rushed.
Rosamund Pike plays another role where she nags Simon Pegg, this time as his girlfriend Clara. Stellan Skarsgard, as Edward, facilitates Hector’s first foray into happiness, and plays the irritable banker rather well. Jean Reno has a tiny role as a drug baron, Christopher Plummer facilitates Hector’s final realisation and Toni Colette turns up as Hector’s old flame, the one he can’t stop thinking about.
It seems that Hector and the Search for Happiness is a personal project for writer/director Peter Chelsom, but the film feels a little like a midlife crisis while interrailing. Many of the encounters that Hector has are warm and genuine, but a lot of the character lines drawn are clichéd, unimaginative or potentially offensive; pretty Chinese girl is a prostitute, Hector gets kidnapped in Africa… You get the idea.
As director, Chelsom makes Hector’s midlife search for something more engaging, but forces the character through changes that the audience often struggles to keep up with. The film zips along nicely – apart from the third act – but the realisation that Hector comes to about his life is sudden and almost unforeseen, as though the audience never knew the character at all, despite having spent almost 2 hours with him. As well as this, stylistic choices are made and quickly abandoned, leaving the film feeling unfinished and muddled.
Hector and the Search for Happiness is a sweet enough film about searching for something that we had all along. Pegg is engaging and the search he goes on is a relatable one. The film suffers, however, from a strange tone, clichéd characters and characters literally changing from scene to scene.