Somehow, the culture has twisted the hunt for happiness into a need to travel … the world.
Maybe that’s just Hollywood shorthand, but every Walter Mitty seems to think that “the answer” lies in an effort to “Eat, Pray, Love” your way through a lot of stamps on your passport. The movies spun from this idle, indulgent conceit are always self-satisfied excuses for movie stars and producers to span the globe for a working vacation.
Which brings us to “Hector and the Search for Happiness,” a glib and overlong tale of a frustrated London psychiatrist who sets out to do “research” to ostensibly help his patients, who are getting no happier under his care. Nor is he.
Actually, Hector (Simon Pegg) has taken to snapping at the rich housewife who whines about having to cut the number of days a week she employs a nanny. And he wonders why he’s unable to commit to his marketing guru girlfriend (Rosamund Pike). So he takes off.
He flies to China and Tibet, Africa and America, meets everyone from rich businessfolk and a Chinese “student” (Ming Zhao) to an African warlord and South America druglord (Jean Reno). He reconnects with college pals (Toni Collette among them) who have got on with the business of living.
And he takes notes.
“A lot of people think happiness means being richer or more important.” That he picks up from a rich guy (Stellan Skarsgard) who teaches him the pleasures of first class travel and exotic indulgences.
“Happiness is answering your calling.”
“Many people only see happiness in their future.”
That one seems to apply to Hector, putting off commitment when all he really needs is the simple advice from a passenger on an African flight.
“Does that person bring you predominantly A) Up or B) Down?”
These “rules” are strictly fortune cookie philosophy, and the travels – odd moments of slapstick or offhanded Pegg one-liners, exchanges with a young Buddhist monk who tells him the monastery he’s trekked to is “closed on Monday” – are trite, tried and true.
But a couple of co-stars animate the search. Jean Reno’s paranoid druglord is not the sort of fellow you want to run into in a bar, in Africa or anywhere else. He asks questions, one of which stands out.
“What’s in it for you?”
And Collette, as a college girlfriend, gets a dandy read-the-Brit-the-riot-act scene.
Hector freely acknowledges he is experiencing a #richpeoplesproblem, both personally and professionally. Africans who “know how to celebrate” and embrace a really good “sweet potato stew” may have it right, fortune cookie philosophy in a nutshell.
The one touching moment is a gimme – a chance encounter with a cancer patient (Chantel Herman).
None of which add up to the catharsis the quest promises or the comedy the film supposedly is. Hector might have been better off staying at home and reading a book, which also pretty much applies to the audience, in this case.
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