Saturday, October 4
REVIEW: Hector and the Search for Happiness
Directed by Peter Chelsom
1 hour 54 minutes
What a perfect movie for a wet Saturday afternoon. A trip across town to my favorite art house theater usually yields a good catch. It certainly did today. And it afforded me the opportunity to see Simon Pegg in something other than the Star Trek pics. I've wanted to see a trio of his other films but never seemed to be able to pull it off somehow. If I had to wait to see one, I'm glad it was Hector... an absolutely delightful movie. If you know anyone who didn't like it, scratch them off your Christmas list. If you didn't like it, I'm scratching you off mine.
The short version of the story is that an English psychiatrist goes on a journey across continents to find the meaning of happiness. In its fashion, it reminded me of one of my treasured 1940s flicks, The Razor's Edge, where a man puts off marrying his fiancee to explore the world in the hope of finding enlightenment. But that one had no humor to speak of and this one is loaded with it. Within the first minute I was laughing so hard at something and ultimately I found I myself to be the only one still laughing. I can't tell you how rare that is.
Hector is a dedicated psychiatrist with a full roster of clients (we get snippets of several visits) but feels that he isn't bringing about any happiness to any of them. He then questions his own happiness, much of which is centered around his live-in girlfriend and their fastidious life together.
So, with her half-hearted approval, he sets out on a solo journey that takes him to such places as China, Africa and Los Angeles. (Hector apparently didn't read the recent survey that declared Los Angeles not among America's happier cities.) Moving along...
One way of discovering what makes up happiness is to deal with unhappiness, some of which Hector finds in extremes. Yikes. The episodic storyline, however, allows for Hector to meet a variety of people (except for Rosamund Pike as his girlfriend, all other cast members have brief roles) whom Hector more or less interviews about their happiness quotient. And of course there's the obligatory episode showing a piece of their lives, all for Hector's digestion and diagnosis.
Hector keeps a journal along the way and that journal is a great source of amusement for us audience members. He scribbles a number of things that turn into animations that are utterly delightful. He had a bumpy plane ride in a thunderstorm and that when it is shown from the outside is another enchanting cartoon drawing.
At the times when Hector hears something profound about happiness (and it happens a good dozen times), what he learns is written on the screen in a lovely script for all to contemplate.
And there is a cluster of things to learn or perhaps be reminded of. I admit to being a happiness junkie, my life works as well as it does due to an ever-present positive outlook and humor. But I remain curious and open to all ideas, like Hector, about what may be at the root of others' happiness. When I heard this title, before I learned that Simon Pegg was attached to the project, I knew it was something that would hold my interest.
Pegg is the entire film. I'd guess he's in every scene if not every frame. He has a wonderful facility for playing an underachiever. His Hector is not quite hitting the high marks he had in mind. His comedy is effortless and understated while his dramatic turns show the alacrity and impulses of the everyday man. He moves easily between comedy and drama, never losing focus of the intended emotion, and surprising his audience every time. There were times I wasn't quite finished with my laugh when I felt tears fill my eyes.
All the other actors were well-cast in their brief roles. Pike's role was a far cry from what I saw her in yesterday, Gone Girl, but she's an actress who rather captivates me. Who could get tired of seeing the wonderful Toni Collette? And I never mind spending some time with Christopher Plummer. There were some other actors I've never heard of but they invested their roles with such sincerity that I just floated along on that happiness journey.
Bravo to the director and writer for keeping this from getting too sappy. It could have gone there and the naysayers (the ones off my Christmas list...?!?) will say it did go there. But I loved the approach... and the result. It didn't hurt to spend some time in some of these fascinating locations either.
I found it a tad hard to get into in the beginning but once his journey began in earnest, so did it for me... some laughs, some sadness, some pathos, some learning. Let it be said that while Hector learns a thing or two about happiness (or lack thereof), you may pick up a hint or two yourself.
You up for it?