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Film Review: “Hector and the Search for Happiness”

By Muhammad MuzammalCOLUMNIST

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“Hector and the Search for Happiness” is a lazy, messy film that plays like a moody Hallmark greeting card. It entertains you, amuses you, manipulates your emotions in the most aggravating way possible and in the end, it ties itself nicely together, with an unrealistic, soft and inexplicable ending.

Simon Pegg plays the idiotic titular psychiatrist, Hector, who lives a life of banal daily routines. He has a girlfriend Clara (the lovely Rosemund Pike) who cares enough to cook all of his meals and organize his clothing. Despite this, Hector believes she’s smothering and controlling him. Our hero isn’t happy and projects his sadness and unsatisfactory feeling of his life on his patients.

They say that good people suffer the most in times of war. I say all side characters in this film unreasonably suffer the worst in the time of Hector’s mental battle.

Hector goes on a worldwide trip to find happiness. His first stop is China, where he approaches external happiness through money with a rich banker, Stellen Skarsgard, whom he parties with. Not to mention, he almost cheats on Clara, dodging the relationship-ending bullet by going to sleep before he could have sex with a Chinese prostitute. Following this incident are segmental journeys to Africa, Northern China and Los Angeles.

The movie has abrupt changes in tone. It’s cartoony and goofy in its first act and too Bollywood-like and manic in Hector’s trip to China. It then becomes intense and ominous when Hector is stuck at an African drug lord’s prison cell, and then uplifting when he finds out that to be happy means to love.

That shouldn’t come as a spoiler and neither should this piece of advice: the key to being happy is to not watch this film. It doesn’t take its characters seriously and may have worked, at best, as an imaginative animated film instead of having individual animated sequences tie into reality. This isn’t “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” or a Dr. Seuss book adaptation, it’s a story that admiringly wants to find what it means to be happy, but shamelessly doesn’t respect its adult characters enough to do it.

Take Clara, for example. She’s laying out time for Hector and waits long enough for him to get back. Her individuality isn’t defined or celebrated as much as her narrative position is. She’s Hector’s end-goal to a happy life but who is she exactly and why is she suffering for another character’s well being?

Surprisingly, there are a few poignant scenes throughout the film. Hector’s escapade to an African village features a heartfelt sequence where his old friend Michael, Barry Atsma, feels and touches an African volunteer. It’s a sign of universal brotherhood.

“Hector and the Search for Happiness” breaks the fourth wall in its most emotionally powerful scenes by throwing write-ups of Hector’s notes on screen. You have us invested in your movie, why bring us out of the film world?

The lead performance by Pegg is underwhelming, but so was the material he worked with. Christopher Plummer, who plays a fellow psychologist, provides random yet pointless comedic relief near the end. Pike is decent as Hector’s crazed girlfriend and Tori Collette gives the best performance as an old flame of Hector’s. Too bad she’s on screen for less than 15 minutes.

This is a male version of, “Eat Pray Love.” I strongly disliked that movie and, to be quite frank, I’m not happy with this one either. If you want to find happiness, don’t expect, “Hector and the Search for Happiness” to have the answers.

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