18 November 2014 | squirrel_burst
It won't blow your mind, but it's a slight film to cheer you up
"Hector and the Search for Happiness" is a warm little comedy/drama that isn't necessarily insightful on what it takes to make people happy, but it will lift up your spirits nonetheless. Hector (Simon Pegg) is a, well, there's no other word for it, boring psychiatrist. He is bored with his job, doodles a lot, is basically being mothered by his girlfriend (Rosamund Pike as Clara), doesn't have many friends and isn't really doing anything with his life. One day he comes to a realization that he really can't help his patients get out of their depressions or solve their problems because he isn't happy himself. He doesn't want to admit it to his girlfriend, but he also still pines for that one girl that could have been "the one" (Toni Collette as Agnes) that he lost years ago. He decides to take an impromptu trip exploring the world. Taking notes along the way, he meets a slew of different characters, all of which have different views and beliefs on what happiness is all about and comes to his own conclusions after living through all sorts of adventures.
Despite the title, I wouldn't call this film a guide to finding true bliss. It's more a dramatic adventure, with some comedy sprinkled on top, of a guy who is unhappy and decides that he is going to find a way to change that. The main reason I'm saying this is because Hector doesn't really come to any mind-blowing conclusions about happiness and your average Joe can't exactly take an impromptu vacation from his job to go flying to China, Africa and Los Angeles on a whim. The film is more of a journey for Hector, with you being invited to come along for the ride. For this character, the conclusions he comes to really are mind-blowing because he's basically been a zombie for many years. When I say that this film isn't going to necessarily change your interpretation of happiness, that's not necessarily a bad thing, it's just that I want you to know what you're getting into before you decide to watch the film.
When it comes to Hector's adventures and encounters, there are some nice moments of sweetness, of comedy and even a few moments of genuine tension and fear. You might think that this film is a straight comedy from the casting of Simon Pegg in the lead, but that's not really the case. Many of his encounters begin as comedic but eventually turn into disappointments. Hector catalogs what he has and hasn't discovered in his sketchbook and moves on. It's like being in college and going for a work placement. You go to a place and figure that you'll get a ton of experience and probably even get offered a job. Odds are, you'll leave slightly disappointed, but wiser than you were before you arrived and in retrospect, you'll cherish those memories. Part of you wonders what it would have been like if things had gone differently, but when you go to the next work placement, you realize that the one job you might have had but didn't get might not have been what you were looking for in the first place. I really enjoyed this aspect of the film, the series of encounters where Hector meets the different people whose lives intersect with his in different ways. My favorites probably being a rich businessman played by Stellan Skarsgard who decides to show him what his vision of happiness is and the beautiful woman named Ying Li (Ming Zhao) that he immediately grows close to soon after. Hector encounters new people, makes some friends, puts notes into his sketchbook, begins realizing who he really is and then keeps moving on to the next step in his self-discovery. It turns out to be a warm quest and you're glad to go along for the ride.
Just because there are some pretty heavy moments of drama, it doesn't mean that the film is a downer. There are some very funny moments throughout, particularly in the wisdom he finds in the simple people of Africa (I know the continent is huge and that's a broad statement, but I can't recall which country, if it is even specifically mentioned). The film also has many whimsical moments where his drawings and sketches are brought to life or Hector finds himself daydreaming about his childhood. I actually admire the delicate balance that the director/screenplay writer Peter Chelsom managed to accomplish here. The brief amount of comedy is just enough to offset the dramatic moments and that blend balances the moments of enlightenment and discovery very well. You will also very much enjoy the semi fantastical developments in Hector's adventures. It helps ease you through the dramatic moments because deep down you get that it might look pretty dire at times but things are ultimately going to be alright. They say that a foul mood is contagious. "Hector and the Search for Happiness" shows that a good mood can be contagious as well. This is the kind of movie that you go to watch with your family and everyone comes out of the theater with a smile on their face, even if they weren't blown away. It's a slight little film, and probably not what you expect to be but that's OK. "Hector and the Search for Happiness" is just what you need to cleanse your pallet after the summer blockbusters and the fall thrillers to reset your mood back to cheery, wide-eyed and optimistic. (Theatrical version on the big screen, October 7, 2014)