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With: Simon Pegg, Rosamund Pike, Veronica Ferres, Stellan Skarsgard, Ming Zhao, Jean Reno, Toni Collette, Christopher Plummer
Written by: Maria von Heland, Peter Chelsom, Tinker Lindsay, based on a novel by Fran¨ois Lelord
Directed by: Peter Chelsom
MPAA Rating: R for language and some brief nudity
Running Time: 114
Date: 09/26/2014

Hector and the Search for Happiness (2014)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Happy Daze

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Based on a novel by Francois Lelord, Hector and the Search for Happiness comes at a good time. People seem generally unhappy right now, given the way the rich have ruined the economy and the job market, politicians are ignoring the climate crisis, and a general negativity threatens to prevent anything from being done about any of it. It would have been great if a movie could have given us some clues about how to be happy in the midst of all this. And for a little while, Hector and the Search for Happiness does all right, but then it flounders, flops, flips over and winds up at the usual place.

Simon Pegg stars as Hector, a psychiatrist. Like so many movie characters, he's uptight. He likes things a certain way, prefers a certain order, and rarely takes any chances. Usually this type of character is paired up with someone more "happy-go-lucky" and they both learn something about life. This time, Hector decides to take a life-changing trip around the world, looking for "what makes people happy."

First, he heads to China. So far so good. A rich businessman (Stellan Skarsgard) takes Hector out for a good time, despite the fact that Hector annoyed him to no end on the plane. They eat good food, go to a fancy club, drink expensive alcohol, and Hector meets the stunningly beautiful Ying Li (Ming Zhao). This part looks like it was a lot of fun. Unfortunately, all is too good to be true, and he heads to the mountains to speak with monks. He learns that to back away from unhappiness does not necessarily lead to happiness.

He then visits Africa, where an old college pal (Barry Atsma) works as a doctor helping the less fortunate. He also meets a drug dealer (Jean Reno) goes through a terrifying ordeal there, which changes the movie's tone rather drastically. On his journey's third leg, he goes to Los Angeles to visit a long lost love (Toni Colette) and to meet a professor (Christopher Plummer) who specializes in happiness. At that time, he realizes that he loves his girlfriend (Rosamund Pike) after all.

Pegg is just fine here, but the movie's tone is very wobbly and uncertain, dropping in some laughs here and there, but pitching way too far outside in the search for emotional power and winding up with mushy, maudlin goop. I hate to mention it, but the co-writer and director here is Peter Chelsom, who was at the helm of the current biggest flop in history, Town & Country (2001), which I (along with most other people) did not see. Additionally, his last film was the Hannah Montana movie. In other words, this is not a man with the finest or most intimate, intricate of touches.

Yet Hector and the Search for Happiness isn't a total loss. You'd have to have a pretty hard heart not to smile or choke up at some of the scenes, even if the majority don't do their job. I doubt anyone will get any Oscar nominations for this, but Reno is very funny, and I was quite find of a German actress named Veronica Ferres who plays a psychic, and one of Hector's patients. At least for a few moments, she made me happy.

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