Peter Chelsom’s dramedy “Hector and the Search for Happiness” joins the short list of life- changes films: ‘Eat, Pray, Love”, “The Bucket List”, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”.
Privileged bourgeois adults, who’ve missed their Junior Year Abroad, take a mid life journey of discovery. While it asks the sort of philosophical questions made popular in the 60’s, these rebels bring their message home, Instead of dropping out of the soul-deadening rat race, they re-up, with a new lease on life.
The delightful Simon Pegg plays Hector, a smug London psychiatrist, who lives the most orderly life imaginable, cosseted by his patient loyal live-in girlfriend Clara (Rosamund Pike).
Simon’s given to doodling cartoons as he listens to the interchangeable whining of his various long-term clients. In a funny montage their faces and voices overlap in a staccato digital morph.
His wackiest client, arty medium/ fortune-teller Anjali (Veronica Ferres) outs his problem. She predicts a long trip, a romance and asks the spooky question, “Who is Agnes?” This is one of my favorite character and I wish she’d had more to do.
Hector flips out, berating one of his clients. He comes home, and without a moment’s discussion with his other half, announces he’s off on an open ended trip a round the world, to discover the Meaning of Happiness.
Kited out like a Boy Scout, Hector’s upgraded to Business Class. Clanking with camping gear attached to his enormous backpack, he annoys nap-seeking tycoon Edward (Stellan Skarsgård) who’s never met such a naif.
Watching Hector’s hapless attempt to negotiate a ride at the Shanghai airport, Edward gives him a lift. Amused by the clueless well-meaning Hector, who blurts out ‘ What makes you happy/” to all and sundry, Edward puts him up in Shanghai’s most luxe hotel and introduces him to the city’s fast and louche night life.
Hector spends the night with gorgeous Ying Li (Ming Zhao) unaware she was a ‘Gift’ from Edward and, in the morning invites her to travel with him back to her home town to visit her family. Absentmindedly doodling her name in his notebook, certain that ‘Loving two women at the same time” may be the secret of happiness, he discovers she’s a hooker with a brutal pimp. Strangely, the film hits its comic stride around the time of its dramatic climax, Hector’s kidnapping.
Every time Hector Skypes home, Clara is looking good dressing up to go on a date. Hector’s unnerved but on he goes
Hector treks through Nepal, where he interviews Old Monk (Togo Igawa). Then he’s off to visit his old friend Michael (Barry Atsma) and work in his NGO medical clinic.
His first night in Africa he speaks to the grim, universally feared drug and arms dealer Diego Baresco (Jean Reno), Winning him over wit his daft affability, he offers to help Diego’s over medicated depressive wife, winning the most important friend he can have in the region.
A woman he meets in the scary puddle jumper to Michael’s village, invites him for a home-cooked meal of sweet potato stew, and her effusive, high-spirited family and friends try to teach him to dance.
Hector’s cab is jacked by rogue militia and he winds up a hostage of a rogue War Lord. (Akin Omotoso). Even his kidnappers are amused by his notebook and search fro happiness, and eventually he’s released.
The last leg of the trip is a visit to Agnes In Los Angeles. Agnes, the girl he left at the alter, is now married, a mother and pregnant to boot; more importantly, she connects him with Professor Coreman (Christopher Plummer having a blast playing the shaggy-haired scientific guru who’s mapping emotional activity in the brain.
Pegg is engaging and shows his dramatic chops. performances are solid throughout and the production values soar.
Viewers with a tolerance for tonal-shifts and the film’s feel good conceit will find the movie a pleasant ride.