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Hector and the Search for Happiness review: 'Too obvious and glib'

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Director: Peter Chelsom; Screenwriters: Maria von Heland, Peter Chelsom, Tinker Lindsay; Starring: Simon Pegg, Rosamund Pike, Stellan Skarsgård, Toni Collette, Jean Reno, Christopher Plummer; Running time: 120 mins; Certificate: 15


Simon Pegg tackles the meaning of life as the eponymous wanderer and/or wonderer in an adaptation of a book by French psychiatrist François Lelord. Hector and the Search for Happiness is part fable, part self-help manual with echoes of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, but like that film, there's a considerable gap between its deeply profound objective and the soft handling.

Hector is subject to gentle teasing for taking life too seriously, but he isn't a purely comic character and that's unfortunate for Pegg who usually gets laughs playing pompous idiots. He's much less compelling being moody and teary-eyed, especially because he doesn't have much to complain about. Hector is a successful psychiatrist who lives in a plush London home with a lovely girlfriend, Clara (Rosamund Pike). Still, in a very middle class way, he wants more. Clara's reluctance to have kids is an understandable grievance, but rather than make waves, he tears off on a round-the-world jaunt seeking a shortcut to fulfilment.

Simon Pegg in Hector And The Search For Happiness

Plenty of disposable income should also feature on that list of Hector's life blessings, except the first thing he discovers is that money can't buy happiness. Director Peter Chelsom (the man behind fluff like Hannah Montana the Movie and Shall We Dance) goes further than stating the obvious by scribbling it across the screen to punctuate the episodes which make up the film (taking excerpts from Hector's journal). Stellan Skarsgård is the wealthy businessman who gives Hector the VIP view of Shanghai and he later crosses paths with Jean Reno's drugs baron in Africa and old flame Toni Collette in California. There are other women, too.

In a cringe-worthy twist to the tale, Clara has given Hector licence to sow his wild oats, which apart from devaluing her own happiness, only serves to highlight the fact that Hector is spoiled and self-indulgent. His conversations with a Tibetan monk (Togo Igawa) only scratch the surface of his inability to think past his own wellbeing, but of course, that is part of his evolutionary arc. Unfortunately, it's a journey informed by platitudes, semi-comic incidents and occasional encounters with people who smile through pain much worse than his own. It's all too obvious and a bit glib.

The people [Hector] encounters... are also quite dull, and as a consequence, what is supposed to be an uplifting journey becomes a trudge.

Christopher Plummer's psychology professor is the only one among Hector's 'teachers' to investigate the theory that he is simply emotionally immature, but by then, you mightn't care. With someone so lost up his own backside, a few redeeming features are necessary to lighten the load, but Hector is a colourless character. Perhaps worse than that, the people he encounters – whose specific function is to be wiser, funnier and more interesting than he is – are also quite dull, and as a consequence, what is supposed to be an uplifting journey becomes a trudge. On the upside, if you're into the Zen thing, there is some nice scenery along the way.

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