Hector And The Search For Happiness
Cert: 15 / 117 mins / Dir. Peter Chelsom
Are you a hustling, bustling, go-getting, empathically-stunted 30-something 'professional'? Then step right this way, as Peter Chelsom's got a film he'd like to show you. No, don't worry about bringing emotions; the screenplay has those for you, which it will be handing out in blunt, calculated, mechanical order...
The story of a moderately-successful psychiatrist with a Perfect Life™ feeling adrift in contemporary society, the titular Hector embarks upon a journal-annotated trip which will span several countries as he searches not only for his elusive happiness but also its cause and meaning. Along the way he meets old friends and makes new ones, each with valuable lessons to teach.
What's that? Sounds a bit familiar? Well, Hector's jotter, its writings and doodles spring to life throughout the film giving us, among other things, a numbered series of observations as we progress on the journey. The first of these entries is "1. Making comparisons can spoil your happiness", which seems ironic considering that the film constantly reminds you of a middle-class mashup of 'Yes Man' and last year's 'Walter Mitty', only with the British Awkardness™ turned up to excruciating levels (although thankfully no-one skateboards past a volcano in this one).
The film's downfall is its attempt to cover the bases of both 'quirky, stylised comedy' and 'inspirational emotional journey'. Sadly, it has so much trouble spinning one of these plates that it really has no hope of managing both. The second (but by no means secondary) problem is that it's so damned patronising all the time. After ironically warning patients of his in the first act about the dangers of an uncontrolled ego (and overblowing minor inconveniences), Hector gives the audience a whistle-stop tour of his Fantastic Life™ before having a half-arsed existential crisis while his long-time girlfriend wears the Thick-Rimmed Glasses Of Moaning And Bossiness™ (before spending the rest of the film as a visual bookmark for the first act). Hector then jets off around the former colonies where he can learn inspirational truths from people who have less money than him*1, almost turns the film into Pretty Woman Lite™, and has an escalating series of scrapes centered around pens. All the while, slowly discovering that maybe happiness isn't a destination after all, but a journey itself? He's basically sent around the planet to learn something he could read on a mug in a gift shop on London's Oxford Street.
And if you haven't been spoken down-to enough for an hour and a half, Christopher Plummer arrives in the final reel to spell everything out (almost to-camera, at one point) and make sure you haven't missed the point. Complete with a greatest-hits montage of the film you're still watching.
At this stage in his career, Simon Pegg knows comedy well enough to excel at it naturally, but his achilles heel is sentimental sincerity and it's precisely this kind of role which may pay the mortgage, but holds him back from progressing into other acting styles where he could shine.
It's almost as if he's learned nothing from 'Run Fatboy Run'.
Still, at least we get the "happiness / a penis" joke out of the way in the first five minutes. Oh, and how come the early Skype conversations are watermarked with their logo, but later in the film they're not?
A self-help manual for the emotionally repressed and easily inspired, Hector's heart is in the right place, but is every bit as condescending as its faux-angst-ridden protagonist. The Search For Happiness has some interesting ideas, but really needs to seek professional help…
Yeah, that's about the size of it.
Some of the sight-gags are funny, but nowhere near enough for a film's worth..
Oh, probably. The film has exactly the sort of box-ticking agenda you'd expect it to.
Do not pay to see this film.
I shouldn't imagine so.
Didn't hear one.
Have you read the book that this is based on? Is it as painfully patronising as the film? I'm just asking because I'm not really likely to pick it up, now…
*1 to be fair, the film does feature people who have more money than Hector, but in these cases, he teaches them to be better people. Do you see, though? DO YOU SEE?
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
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