In “Hector and the Search for Happiness,” a psychiatrist (Simon Pegg) by the name of Hector realizes that he is simply going through the motions with regards to his life. He treats his clients with a consistently nonchalant attitude and follows a routine pattern everyday with his girlfriend Carla (Rosamund Pike). The early stages of the movie set up his life as a mundane cycle and before too much time passes, he decides to act and change things by taking a vacation where he hopes to research the roots of happiness in order to help himself and his patients, who, to be honest, he hasn’t meaningfully helped in years.
His journey takes him into China, Africa, and the U.S. Making use of the journal his girlfriend gave him to capture his experiences, he jots down concise phrases of wisdom with regards to this mythical pursuit of happiness.
The director and his visual effects team need to be commended here, because there is a wonderful convergence of Hector’s journal notes with the actual experiences he has on his journey around the world. His quotes about happiness come to life on the screen in handwritten fashion and his drawings are melded into the real world and vice versa, creating a surreal and fascinating effect. One notable sequence includes the animation of cardboard cutouts to show a plane ride in a thunderstorm. It fit well with the visual themes of the movie and its generally lighthearted feel. Even the still, wide shots of the locations Hector visits are breathtaking on their own, mirroring the distance he must travel in order to find the answers on his intellectual quest.
A criticism that many would make about this dramedy is its scattered, episodic, and eclectic narrative. Hector has run-ins with people from disparate backgrounds. His first encounter on the journey is with a rich businessman in the form of Stellan Skarsgaard’s Edward, and eventually, he runs into a drug lord and his group of evil cohorts. As such, the story feels fractured, since it struggles to strike a proper balance between being a drama and a comedy. However, I didn’t find this to be a major problem with the movie.
The movie has our titular character going in search of happiness. If I were to embark on such a mission, I am sure that I would try drastic, and sometimes radical remedies to fix the present situation. In that sense, the wild and untamed path of the story is justified since a “search” doesn’t necessarily have to be organized and methodical. The plot is a reflection of the main character’s mindset, and that works to a certain degree, whether it was intentional or not.
I was fine with the twists and unconventional turns the film took throughout the bulk of the duration, but then I was disappointed with its ending, which was steered right into cliche territory. I won’t be spoiling the movie when I say that Hector’s search for contentment points to an “it was right in front of you” answer. Overall, Pegg delivers a truly stunning finale to the film with his flood of emotions, and it’s his acting that makes the entire ride of close to two hours so charming and endearing from start to finish. The inclusion of a standardized drama/comedy ending however, dampened the sweetness of his exploration. At this point, it must be stated that even the words of wisdom about happiness which he writes in list form are mostly generic cliches found in self-help books (not that I’ve read any), but they did elicit a certain level of humor after seeing the incidents that unraveled leading to those revelations.
The ending can be a letdown, as can be the inability to place the movie in a particular genre, but it’s the presence of a strong ensemble cast, seeing the likes of Christopher Plummer, Toni Collette, and Jean Reno. With Pike and Pegg in tow, in addition to the regular jolts of humor, slapstick or otherwise, it’s the cast that keeps this movie afloat throughout the running time.