Hector and the Search for Happiness (2014)

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“His world was tidy, uncomplicated, and he liked it that way.”

Hector and the Search for Happiness asks what in my opinion is the hardest question to answer. What is happiness to you? Think about it for a minute. As people we tend to attach ourselves to the negatives, so defining happiness’ polar opposite, sadness, is relatively easy. Being happy is more than just a catchy Pharrell song; it’s a state of mind. While Hector doesn’t give an exact definition – as if there is one – it does make you look inward and ask yourself. This isn’t a great movie, but where it stumbles in the technical department it succeeds in taking us on an emotional journey of discovery.

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Hector (Simon Pegg) is a disillusioned psychiatrist who has fallen into a rut. His life is monotonous and dull, lacking any sense of spontaneity and adventure. Living with him is his girlfriend Clara (Rosamund Pike). She dotes on Hector, fixes his ties for him in the morning and does anything he needs. As far as girlfriends go, she’s pretty much any man’s dream. That’s why I never understood Hector’s disdain and unhappiness. We aren’t given a reason besides that he has simply grown bored. Unable to help his patients since he can’t help himself, Hector sets off on a worldwide journey to figure out what happiness is through the lives of others.

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Similar to The Secret Life of Walter Mitty in its worldwide quest, Hector has a longer lasting impression because the people we meet along the way register. They make a difference in the pilgrimmage. Walter Mitty is the finer made and sleeker movie of the two, but this one has the more affecting story. As the title suggests, each encounter introduces both us and Hector to a new character with their own definition of the word. It can be money, power, friendship, love, family. Right or wrong, Hector gets to experience each take on happiness and decide for himself whether or not it fits his own interpretation. The good and the bad events both help elucidate things for Hector.

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The real draw is Simon Pegg. The man just oozes charisma. From his Buster Keaton inspired clumsy physicality to the nuanced dramatic actor he has evolved into, Pegg is a threat no matter what genre the film. His greatest talent and asset is the capability to mix and match, to play the starring role and guide his way through laugh out loud jokes and honest sincerity. The film suffers from a lack of a forthright directorial voice, but you never doubt the path that Pegg takes his character. Even in the corniest, worst moments you’re still willing to stay with him. That alone speaks volumes of his talent.

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Adapted from the novel of the same name, director Peter Chelsom sets us on the correct trajectory, just a lot of the scenes along the way choose the wrong fork in the road. That muddles the tone, spoils character development, and slows the overall pace. Still, I have to admit that I liked it, flaws and all. Hector and the Search for Happiness reminds its audience that good, no matter how or when, eventually always produces more good. That’s my justification for recommending a lackluster directorial effort and a sloppily written story. Hector is missing cinematic storytelling prowess, but where it lacks expertise it finds strength in its heart. Movies have the power to make us feel what they want. Hector is bungled together, but it is never graceless. Pegg’s charming performance reminds us that happiness can be found in all facets of life as long as we’re willing to search.

“This is your next life.”

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

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