Hector and the Search for Happiness
2014, R, 118 min. Directed by Peter Chelsom. Starring Simon Pegg, Toni Collette, Rosamund Pike, Stellan Skarsgård, Jean Reno, Barry Atsma, Christopher Plummer, Ming Zhao, Veronica Ferres, Togo Igawa.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 3, 2014
The problems of rich, Anglo narcissists haven’t had an airing this glib since Eat Pray Love jumped from the bestseller shelves to our cinema screens. Like its predecessor, this film is based on a self-help guide couched in the form of a novel, in this case François Lelord’s Hector and the Search for Happiness.
An unseen narrator recites Hector’s woes at the film’s outset (which is probably a good thing since it would otherwise consume too much time to demonstrate the causes of this well-to-do, comfortably married, white, London psychiatrist’s unhappiness). Hector (Pegg), as it turns out, is unhappy because he feels as though he’s not really helping any of his patients; we watch as he doodles in his notebook and daydreams about the cartoon character Tintin and his adventures, while patient after patient pours out personal problems, which he is at a loss to solve. At home, his wife Clara (Pike) is a jovial mate. She works for a drug company, making up brand names for new products, and much is made about their contented choice to remain childless (an obvious portent of the happily knocked-up ending to come, which will leave some of us gritting our teeth in wait for a conclusion that equates the sure path to happiness with procreative fulfillment – and if you regard this as a spoiler, note my words: “obvious portent”).
Off Hector goes – to China where a businessman (Skarsgård) shows him the delights of the Shanghai nightlife and Hector falls for an accommodating young student who turns out to be a prostitute (surprising no one but Hector), then to a monastery in Tibet where he helps the monks realign their satellite dish and restore their Skype connection – only to have the wind knock it over again. From there it’s on to Africa to meet up with an old friend (Atsma) from medical school where he learns lessons in tolerance, performs a kind favor for a drug lord (Reno), fraternizes with some locals over glorious sweet potato stew, and gets thrown into rathole jail. Once out of Africa, Hector continues on to Los Angeles to visit another school friend (Collette), who connects him with a famous researcher (Plummer) who’s conducting breakthrough experiments on the brain’s limbic system. Throughout his journey, Hector scribbles notes about his revelations regarding happiness (“Happiness is being loved for who you are,” “Fear is an impediment to happiness,” “Happiness is feeling completely alive,” and so on – things one couldn’t possibly discover in an armchair in London.)
Not even this sprightly cast can buck the privileged sense of entitlement that bedevils this movie. Don’t count on the impish humor that Simon Pegg has unleashed so successfully in other movies to save the day. His presence makes Hector and the Search for Happiness tolerable, as do the always reliable performances of Rosamund Pike and Toni Collette. But this tone-deaf story about a shrink healing himself should come with a bottle of tranquilizers for every patron.