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article imageReview: ‘Hector and the Search for Happiness’ isn’t the most noble quest Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Sep 26, 2014 in Entertainment
‘Hector and the Search for Happiness’ is a yuppie’s humorous escape from life’s responsibilities in the guise of a research trip to investigate an abstract idea.
Countless people have publicly and privately philosophized about the ultimate source of happiness, and centuries later there is still no definitive response; though there may be some agreement on a few. In Hector and the Search for Happiness, a man travels the world seeking the answer and receiving a wide range of results.
Hector (Simon Pegg) is a psychiatrist who lives within a very strict routine, which is supported by his attentive girlfriend (Rosamund Pike). But it all suddenly begins to unravel. He begins to feel restless and discontent, losing patience with his patients. In an effort to help them and himself, Hector packs his notebook and convertible pants and sets off on a whirlwind journey to China, Africa and California in search of what makes people happy.
The title of this film is code for mid-life crisis. Hector becomes disenchanted with his fairly privileged existence and risks losing it all in favor of chasing a unicorn. The first leg takes him to Shanghai where he meets a wealthy banker (Stellan Skarsgård) who offers to show Hector how much happiness money can afford. This includes an exciting night on the town and the attention of a beautiful woman with whom Hector is immediately enamoured. He records, “Happiness is the freedom to love two women at once,” with a crude drawing of two nude women. Another sign of middle-aged angst?
In an unspecified location in Africa, Hector reconnects with an old friend (Barry Atsma). While there he is subjugated by the country’s drug trade, provides assistance at a local clinic and sees elephants in the wild. In Los Angeles, he reunites with an old flame (Toni Collette) who is living the American dream with 2.5 kids and a swimming pool. These cliché and stereotypical representations of countries and lifestyles are somewhat of a disservice to audiences, though it does complement Hector’s shallow “research” expedition.
For the first half of his endeavour, Hector is shown frequently scribbling notes and pictures in his notebook. These seep onto the screen in the form of amusing cartoons and other artificial representations of situations such as a toy airplane being manually rocked by turbulence. As the journey takes on more significant meaning, there are fewer illustrated interjections. Instead, Hector begins to reflect on his real experiences. Coincidentally, he actually becomes more likeable when he starts to take ownership of his life and, subsequently, his happiness.
Nonetheless, even a movie built around a foolish quest can have its moments of delight. Hector is a comical character who often succeeds in saying or doing the wrong thing, including disrupting a quiet flight with a number of Velcro pockets and making inappropriate jokes to the leader of a drug cartel. Pike is highly emotional and incredibly enchanting, particularly when she informs her absent lover that she can’t chat because she’s “going out.” The film means well, making cynical, comical and candid observations about happiness — some of which can be genuine takeaways (“Happiness is being loved for who you are”). But even a film that is not a total lemon can be a bit sour in spots.
Director: Peter Chelsom
Starring: Simon Pegg, Rosamund Pike and Toni Collette
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