“Hector and the Search for Happiness”: A Shrink Needs Help

IMDB‘s headline-worthy description of the new film Hector and the Search for Happiness: “A psychiatrist searches the globe to find the secret of happiness.” Tagline: Everyone wants to find it.

A sampling of some actual headlines from the critics:

  • …Simon Pegg Woefully Miscast in This Imbecilic Waste of Time (The Wrap)
  • Search for happiness turns up pap in cloying ‘Hector’ (The Detroit News)
  • ‘Hector and the Search for Happiness’ not a blissful encounter (Los Angeles Times)

Hector and the Search for Happiness is based on a bestselling book by François Lelorda psychiatrist himself.

The Story

Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times: [It’s]…”about precisely what its title indicates. Hector (Simon Pegg), a London psychiatrist, has a successful practice, a lovely apartment and a charming and successful girlfriend named Clara (Rosamund Pike), and yet he’s dissatisfied with his life. So off he goes, on a trip that encompasses China, Africa and Los Angeles, in search of what it is that makes us happy.”

Some of the critiques have focused on the simplicity and unoriginality of the script. Well, maybe, as director Peter Chelsom has suggested, audiences just don’t understand how it’s being told—that it’s “kind of like a fable,” as star Simon Pegg points out to Nick Patch, 680News. “…(T)here’s a reason why it’s told in archetypes…It’s like, this is how a kid would tell you the story.”

The Characters

Michael O’Sullivan, Washington Post, introduces us to some of the people Hector meets in his travels: “…a hot Chinese hooker (Ming Zhao)” as well as “a rich, cynical banker (Stellan Skarsgard); an old friend of Hector’s who has become an aid worker after coming out as gay (Barry Atsma); a ruthless drug lord (Jean Reno) with a mentally ill wife; a woman dying of cancer (Chantel Herman); and a wise old monk (Togo Igawa).”

Before going back to Clara, he also sees old flame Agnes (Toni Collette), who’s now married with kids.

The Trailer for Hector and the Search for Happiness

More About Hector

Peter Keough, Boston Globe: “So why is he not happy? In part, as a montage of whining clients indicates (Hector sketches unflattering pictures of them in his notebook as he listens), it’s because he’s not making his patients any happier. Although his indifference and contempt might explain that failure, he decides he must search the world and ask random people whether they are happy and why.”

About Happiness

Michael O’Sullivan, Washington Post: “Spoiler alert: Happiness has to do with loving others and self-acceptance. If that’s something you have to fly to Shanghai to find out, save yourself the airfare and see this movie instead.”

Sheila O’Malley, rogerebert.com: [The film] “…treats happiness as an easily-digestible cross-stitched homily, the kind hung as harmless decorations in people’s living rooms. It’s chain-mail wisdom, sprinkled with balloons and kitty-cat faces, forwarded by people with too much time on their hands. It’s ‘Eat, Pray, Love’-lite, and ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ was already ‘lite.'”

Selected Reviews

Justin Chang, Variety: “Happiness means steering clear of ‘Hector and the Search for Happiness.’ A supremely irritating marriage of picture-postcard exoticism and motivational uplift…(L)ike an “Eat Pray Love” remake for men with too much time, money and existential ennui on their hands. Trite, flat-footed, culturally insensitive…”

Sheila O’Malley, rogerebert.com: “As beautifully filmed as the worldwide tour often is (the film was shot by Kolja Brandt), ‘Hector and the Search for Happiness’ has an undeniable strain of poverty tourism, mixed with the insulting belief that those who have nothing somehow hold the secret to life.”

Inkoo Kang, The Wrap: “In its conflation of happiness and self-knowledge, ‘Hector’ often feels like the visual approximation of a therapy session. And just as therapy is work, enduring this mess is exertion, too.”

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