HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS. Starring Simon Pegg, Rosamund Pike, Stellan Skarsgaard, Toni Collette, Christopher Plummer, Barry Atsma, Chantelle Herman. Directed by Peter Chelsom. 118 minutes. Rated M (Mature themes, violence, coarse language).
The title sounds like one of those self-help books – and, in fact, it was such a book and is translated into film to invite all those on a search for happiness to share the journey of Hector. Not that Hector is always likeable and easy to identify with, though Simon Pegg does his best to do some comedy but with serious undertones. Hector is a bit over-earnest at times, over-eager, not always empathetic to his clients. He is a psychiatrist, with comfortable practice, a good income, but increasingly irritated with the clients who do have some irritating traits. Hector is also lucky to have Clara, Rosamund Pike (rather different from her Gone Girl) as his longtime partner. That she has stayed with him all this time is something of a mystery.
One of his clients has some psychological insight and suggests, along with a touch of fortune-telling, that Hector should go on a trip. Fortunately, he has the time as well as the money to go on such a long trip, searching for happiness. Clara is more than a bit surprised and, though he sometimes keeps in touch with her during the trip, it would be understandable if she were not their when he comes back. Spoiler: she is!
The first destination that Hector chooses is China. On the plane, he causes a bit of kerfuffle and is moved to business class where he sits next to a rather self-centred businessman played by Stellan Skarsgaard. In the event, Hector accompanies Edward into Shanghai, beginning to take notes formulating his principles for happiness or situations which are not happy. Edward is rich which allegedly enables him to be happy. Edward also introduces Hector to a young Chinese woman, an attractive and very sympathetic student and, dabbling in a bit in extra-marital search for happiness, Hector spends the night with her only to find that she is not at all the girl that he thought she was. Plenty of lessons there.
The next destination is Africa, something of the Africa we see in the movies which may or may not be the real Africa. However, he comes to visit one of his fellow students from his American university days. Michael is a doctor, helping the locals in the best possible way and in partnership with one of the locals. That might have been all right, Hector seeing some happiness in altruism, but, one night, on his return to headquarters, some thugs waylay the car and take Hector as a hostage. He does indeed have a very difficult time in captivity, no amenities, his abductors rather sophisticated in their talk and in their hopes. Happiness is not being tortured.
Hector had encountered a European drug lord, Diego, Jean Reno, and they got on well, he providing a good prescription for the drug lord’s wife. Fortunately, Diego’s name can put terror into terrorists and Hector is released. Quite a lot of reflection on happiness or not here.
By this time, we wonder whether Hector is going to visit all the continents but he takes off for Los Angeles to catch up with Agnes, Toni Collette, his good friend from study days along with Michael.
This is where the film does improve, especially with Toni Collette’s strong performance, a decent, common-sensed woman, now married with children, a bit unsympathetic to Hector’s self-indulgence and offering him plenty of words of wisdom and challenge. She also takes him to see their old professor, now doing research on the activities of the brain and persuading Hector to take part in an experiment with the experiencing of various emotions which will light up the figure of the brain on the computer. The great benefit of this part of the film is that Christopher Plummer plays the professor, very urbane and challenging in his lecture, very practical and common-sensed in his advice to Hector.
By this time, Hector has quite a lot of points which have been up there on the screen for our consideration. And then he goes home, we presume a happier and wiser man, anchored in realities with its ups and downs rather than idealising a state of earthly happiness.
The film is quite entertaining in its way, especially if you are really interested in getting points for happiness, tolerable if you want some entertainment (with a few morals tossed in).
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out 18th October 2015.