Starring: Simon Pegg, Rosamund Pike, Jean Reno
Genre: Comedy/ Drama
London psychiatrist Hector (Pegg) feels like a fraud as despite having a wonderful girlfriend (Pike) and materialistically everything he ever wanted in his very organised life, he is unsure what happiness actually is and so appears to not be able to make any of his patients happy. Hector embarks on a global journey to attempt to discover for himself what true happiness actually is.
When a film is described as “heart warming”, “uplifting” or even, gulp, “Life-affirming” and has its main character looking very pleased with themselves on the poster it usually puts the fear of God in me as what I am probably about to spend the next couple of hours watching is going to be hideously saccharine in tone with very cynical writing and deeply unlikeable characters. Well Hector and the Search for Happiness is all of those things, as well as hideously smug and infuriatingly patronising.
No effort has been put into the script to make the protagonist of Hector even slightly likeable, he is negligent as a psychiatrist in how he treats his patients and also extremely self-centred. I appreciate that there has to be a level of creative license with the character so it allows the narrative to explore its main themes but some effort has to be made, for the entire two hours it is impossible to care at all if Hector does find happiness as quite frankly, he does not deserve to. Character arcs are of course a good thing and I would naturally expect a film of this kind to have that, but Hector is never likeable or has any redeeming or relatable features, and how the narrative presents his supposed physical and emotional journey provides a repulsive viewing experience as its smug preaching just insults the intelligence of everyone watching it.
The film itself is completely devoid of any morals in its hideous portrayal of happiness as Hector goes on his global journey in which the film casually insults and patronises various cultures. As the story goes along Hector writes in his notebook various thoughts he has on the potential definitions of happiness (we are also treated to visuals of them) and they just constantly contradict each other. Not only is the film racist with an insular westernised view of the world, but it is also highly misogynistic; Hector has the perfect girlfriend who is gorgeous and will do anything for him but yet he just leaves her behind for a sudden trip of apparent self-discovery and she remains devoted to him. To just add to the films complete hypocrisy of morals Hector then at one point casually sleeps with a Chinese prostitute, at one point the daughter of an African family he stays with undresses for him and he goes to see an ex-girlfriend (Toni Collette) and is has a hideously bad attitude to her. If it was just the character that had this view that may make for a decent (if generic) arc but it seems to be the attitude of the actual film and how casually it depicts such misogyny, patronising stereotypes and casual racism just treats the viewer like they are completely stupid.
Hector and the Search for Happiness is also supposed to be a comedy/ drama, well despite having three screenwriters and also a different individual in the director’s chair there just seems to be no concept of what either of these things actually are; Moments that should be funny just are not, with the film taking outrageous liberties with what is supposed to be considered funny or dramatic and mixing them together lazily with dreadful results. There is a moment when Hector talks to an African drug lord (Jean Reno – yes, really!) like a naive idiot (even though he is supposed to be psychiatrist) and there is also a moment when Hector is kidnapped by African militia, but yet the way the film handles these moments is hideously ill disciplined. Not only that, but in some scenes Hector acts in a way with his patients that would lead to instant dismissal in the real world.
I once again cannot emphasise enough how I appreciate that creative license is necessary, but there needs to be some level of discipline (or a good script), but in Hector and the Search for Happiness there just isn’t any and it makes for a viewing experience that is sometimes boring, sometimes cringe worthy and always infuriating. How Hector escapes the militia is also so painfully lazy, predictable and plain stupid in how it is written.
As the film goes along and Hector travels the world and meets actors that should really know better our ‘hero’ has his predictable big epiphany in the film’s final third which involves technology and some kind of random helmet that sends out colour signals for different emotions for a comatose Christopher Plummer to spout on some supposedly scientific nonsense about. It is just yet another sequence in a film full of random moments all put together rather awkwardly that the writers seem to think if they close their eyes and put them together in some kind of random order they may be able to claim it contains some kind of heart-warming and enlightening message about happiness. Well, narrative filmmaking does not work like that and though the main arc is painfully predictable anyway, the fact how the film and protagonist arrive at that is one very painful journey for the viewer.
Happiness is of course a relative term and so this film, unless written very well with some intelligent and enlightening observations (it isn’t), Hector and the Search for Happiness was perhaps always destined to fail, well fail miserably it does.
Not only is Hector and the Search for Happiness a film so badly made with no actual basic understanding of what comedy or drama (and indeed narrative) actually are, it also manages to insult the intelligence and deeply patronise the entire world, it is truly repulsive viewing and all involved with this film should be deeply ashamed.