A word of warning. I may get a little deep here with my review of Hector and the Search for Happiness. I may get a bit introspective. Dare I say it? I may get real.
Or … I won’t.
Based on a novel by François Lelord, the movie is about the titular Hector as one might expect (played by Simon Pegg). And yes, he does indeed go on a search for happiness. That’s because Hector’s a psychologist who has let routine and the comfort of predictability numb his appreciation and awareness of the life going on around him. His inner child has become little more than a recurring dream highlighting his fears and insecurities.
So, leaving his OCD but loving girlfriend (Rosamund Pike) in London, Hector sets off on a global walkabout … well, he mostly flies from there to there … but that’s not important right now. He’s looking to see what makes people happy and has determined that visiting China, Africa, and Los Angeles will do it. Along the way, he’ll touch base with a long lost friend and the girl that got away, while also meeting a rich businessman, a beautiful lady of the night, a tech-savvy monk, a friendly mother with a delicious recipe for sweet potato stew, and a drug kingpin. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a vacation package quite so rich.
Oddly enough, taking it all in, I was immediately struck with the similarities between this and a somewhat forgotten and perhaps besmirched Jim Carrey movie, Yes Man. Essentially, both men are stuck in place and only by saying ‘yes’ to the opportunities presented to them do they reignite their passion for life and prioritize the things that really matter. With that said, Carrey’s movie was a much more straightforward comedy, and Hector’s tale is more of an Eat Pray Love that isn’t targeted solely at the female gender.
But don’t take that broad comparison the wrong way (unless you liked Eat Pray Love … which is possible I suppose). As is so often the case with Pegg’s roles on-screen, he’s a bit of an underdog and someone the audience so dearly wants to see claim victory in the end. And much like Cuban Fury was a lovely showcase for the many talents of Nick Frost earlier this year, Simon Pegg gets to show a nice amount of range for himself here. Neither actor’s abilities are surprising to myself, as a longtime fan of their work both together and apart, but it’s nice to see them getting to do more than be the sidekick and let other people try to steal the spotlight for a change.
If there is a negative for this movie that doesn’t have to do with keeping one’s cynicism at bay, it’s my problems with Pike’s acting, as I’ve probably mentioned in nearly every review of a movie she’s been featured. I just have trouble believing her characters when she’s asked to exhibit sadness or fear. Her comedy works fine but the drama just always seems to lack something for me. However, pretty much everyone else in the movie does a wonderful job and the quirkiness to Pike’s character helps to mitigate the issues I seem to have (and that others may not).
Also working in the movie’s favor are some inventive and amusing fantasy sequences, reminiscent of the work of Michel Gondry or last year’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. It would have been nice to have a few more of these sequences in the latter half of the film but as Hector starts to put the pieces of his life together, it does make sense that the frequency of these moments begins to wane.
Back to that introspective, deep talk I referenced earlier, I could understand that some people may have some trouble getting through sections of the movie. Hector’s journey will take him from insane heights to frightening lows. And for people who are too cynical to let events unfold in a neat, far from coincidental manner without ripping their hair out, I could understand their frustration. There’s a lot on display that one must take with a grain of salt and let the underlying lessons speak louder than the literal sequences and connections that occur.
And for whatever reason, while I am normally the harbinger of doom and lover of all things melancholy, 2014 has been a year of hope in cinema for me. Despite their clear moments and undertones of sadness, when you look at films like The Fault in Our Stars, Begin Again, and Hector and the Search for Happiness, they’re all actually about appreciating life and finding your joy (ugh, I just said ‘finding your joy’). Yet, despite the earnest optimism that is a common thread among those films, they are quite possibly my three favorites of the year so far.
Maybe my mid-life crisis is starting early. Who knows? But in a sea of mediocre fare, I would hope that, for once, American audiences will turn out for a Simon Pegg film that isn’t onboard the Enterprise or starring Tom Cruise. Yes, this one’s predictable and requires a good amount of disbelief but every once in a while it’s good to just let go and simply enjoy a good movie. If I can do it, so can you.
Hector and the Search for Happiness is rated R for language and some brief nudity.
– Reviewed by Ian Forbes
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