Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
Hector and the Search for Happiness
Philosophy and comedy together are hard to come by and often fleeting in cinema. But perhaps, I thought, I would find it in "Hector and the Search for Happiness" by Peter Chisholm (Shall we Dance?).
The film stars the self deprecating Simon Pegg, and he is hard not to like. Here he is Hector, an anal retentive and dull psychiatrist. His life is smooth, without pathos or pulse. He has an effervescent girlfriend (Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl), and for all the complacency his life has, he is in a rut. He gets angry and abrupt with his love and his patients.
He resolves to go to China to discover the essence of happiness.
What follows is a kind of "Eat Pray Love" for the British humor set. Hector endures one inconvenience after another: cramped seats and odd occurrences, and even scrambling plates.
In one scene, an intoxicating beauty patiently and seductively prods him about the location of happiness saying it is in the Space of a shared smile with two friends. This is a terrific moment and rarely do you find such daring thought in any film, let alone a comedy.
The seductress abandons Hector. He goes on writing in his journal and drawing about his findings. There is some lively animation that scrolls across the screen like carbonated giggles.
Hector goes to the Himalayas and meets a monk, (Togo Igawa) who is predictably calm and content. He goes to Africa and winds up talking to a drug dealer (Jean Reno)and getting kidnapped by a warlord (Akin Omotoso).
Despite an intriguing premise, the characters don't change beyond their stock roles. Jean Reno is as gruff and intimidating as ever while the warlord is right out of "Blood Diamond." Given the film's ambition regarding what constitutes happiness should we not get more depth of character aside from an evil boss, a violent dealer or a cynical business man by Stellan Skarsgard (acting similarly to his role in Nymphomaniac)? While we might have gotten something more, here are the same "take it in stride" platitudes from other films we know well: "Benjamin Button" to "Forrest Gump."
The film does give some picaresque fun with its swiftness and likability (via the wonder of Pegg), but it slides into an easy predicable glide soon with Hector acting invariably like a Disney version of the United Nations to virtually everyone. At one point, after being beaten, he shouts "Yippee! I'm Alive!"
People would just not act that way, even Hector. With all of his cheering and laughter that glaze you with sugar, whatever that was thoughtful and pensive is left behind.
By the second hour, we get a Robert Zemekis film with Hector's brain lighting up like spumoni ice cream which mimics the Tibetan flags, with everything put right.
"Hector and the Search for Happiness" is fine as entertainment, but its premise seems to make a one-handed clap in its need for a less "It's a Small World' treatment.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org