Hector and the Search for Happiness has been playing in select theatres across Canada for about two weeks now—and it’s been that long since I saw this movie. Now, I realize the delay between viewing and reviewing may be chocked up to procrastination, but I have a good reason for taking my time. Sometimes, my expectations of a movie create what “later me” (the version of me who’s more rational after time has passed) considers an unfair bias. My reaction to Hector could serve as the epitome of this reasonable procrastination.
You see, I went into the theatre expecting a comedic version of Eat, Pray, Love focused on finding happiness from the male perspective; I came out asking “what the hell?” “Later me” soon realized I really was expecting way too much from a 120-minute comedy. How is it that I expected the film to answer the question of what happiness really is in any significant way? Having said that, it wasn’t unreasonable to expect that if one is going to travel the world to find out what makes people happy, it would be best practice to hit up more than three places.
There are some major cheese factors to this film, and unfortunately, I really do think that it being categorized as a comedy is partially an excuse for a lack of due diligence when it comes to representing people around the world—a Chinese city, a small African village and medical clinic, and one state in the U.S. just doesn’t work.
But I should let “later me” have a say here. Hector (Simon Pegg), a struggling psychiatrist set in his daily routines, decides it’s impossible to help his patients become truly happy when he isn’t sure he’s found happiness himself. So in hopes to become an expert in the topic of happiness, Hector departs on a “world” tour with his wife Clara’s (Rosamund Pike) blessing. His quirky sensibility and penchant for drawing are entertaining and endearing (most of the time). And his wife Clara supports his logical and methodical approach to everything. (I love the Pegg and Pike combo; they work so well together and are the cutest onscreen couple.)
The humour is simplistic but not simple-minded. However, there are plot devices that seem to confuse what this film is truly going for. While humour, enlightenment, and sentiment don’t fundamentally cancel each other out, this film seems to struggle with what it’s really trying to sell itself as. It’s clear that an enlightening journey and constantly sought-after answers to what is happiness isn’t the main goal. But there are moments that come across as incredibly forced that aren’t entirely proponents of the humour side. They seem to lean toward some kind of light drama that’s meant to force the character into discovering what happiness is for him—almost shoving sentiment down your throat. Essentially, “later me” would agree that my initial feelings towards the rather cheesy moments and contrived plot devices are on-the-spot.
Even two weeks after seeing this film, I still struggle with how I feel about it overall. For now, I think I’d have to go with the argument that the film needs to calm down a bit on its attempts at what could possibly be labeled sentimental humorous enlightenment (maybe?); really, it just needs to up the ante on the comedy side. Having said that, this one may require a second screening (though I’m really not sure I’d look forward to that).