The pairing of Simon Pegg and Rosamund Pike is not one that I may have considered, but it works wonderfully in this delightful, and, at times, very amusing movie about a disillusioned psychiatrist and his fastidious girlfriend. Based on the novel "Le voyage d'Hector ou larecherche de bonheur" by Francois Lelord, "Hector" boasts a clever and joyous script by Maria von Heland, Tinker Lindsay and Peter Chelsom, who also directs.
The tedium of listening to his patients day after day has finally gotten to Hector. He feels like a fraud, and begins taking out his frustrations on all of the people around him. He decides to pursue the idea of finding happiness --- and what happiness means to different people.
His quest becomes a life-changing journey, but one that does not include Clara (Pike). Left behind to ponder the status of their relationship causes poor Clara much consternation. We are left wondering how Hector could depart without this adorable creature. But Hector has it in his mind that he has never gotten over his first love, Agnes (Toni Collette), whose photo he keeps in his sock drawer.
Off Hector goes --- first to China where he encounters Edward (Stellan Skarsgard), a wealthy banker who believes money buys happiness. Hector also meets a beautiful student Ying Li (Ming Zhao) who tests his ardor for Clara.
Next stop is Africa to visit the other person in the sock-drawer photo --- his best friend Michael (Barry Atsma), a doctor at a very poor clinic, who travels with a bodyguard. On his first night, in the seedy hotel bar, he meets Diego Baresco (Jean Reno), a ruthless drug dealer with a wife problem. It's a testy exchange of words and prescriptions which will later save Hector's life.
The "happiness" experiment ends in Los Angeles where Hector reconnects with Agnes for whom he believes he still retains feelings. But Agnes is very happily married with two children and another on the way. She introduces Hector to Professor Coreman (Christopher Plummer, who also narrates), who has written a book about happiness --- and the pursuit thereof. All of this culminates with Hector facing his true feelings for Clara.
As I mentioned, Pegg and Pike are completely charming together. They are a splendid couple, and, although we know Pegg is hilarious, Pike is as well. Von Heland, Lindsay and Chelsom have written a lovely script with believable dialogue, especially for Pegg and Pike.
But the best scene written by these three involves a dying woman (Chantel Herman) on Hector's plane from Africa to LA. It's beautifully scripted and acted by Herman and Pegg. And it is one more example of true happiness for Hector's research. Who knew that Simon has such a broad range, and can perform in such a serious manner? Brilliant ---
"Hector and the Search for Happiness" has given me renewed inspiration in my search for happiness. It may do the same for you.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!
Don't be misled by the awkward title to this film. Simon Pegg's new movie is a gem, and his performance is like nothing he's done before. It's an often exhilarating combination of comedy and drama, with some unique animated touches that set it apart from most other pictures.
Pegg plays the title character, a London psychiatrist with a successful practice, and a beautiful girlfriend in Clara (Rosamund Pike). The problem is he's not particularly happy, and decides to chuck it all, at least temporarily, to find the secret of other people's happiness, and his own. This decision doesn't go over too well with Clara, but she ultimately advises him, if he's going to go on this journey, to at least do it full bore.
His first plane trip takes him to China. On the way he sits next to a wealthy banker named Edward (Stellan Skarsgard), with whom Hector forms an unlikely friendship. Hector's somewhat shabby outer appearance is a bit off-putting to Edward, but this is offset by his winning personality and bright outlook on life.
His China experience reveals a bit of naivete on his part, because a young Chinese beauty who befriends him in a nightclub isn't who she appears to be. He eventually treks through snow-covered mountains and hooks up with a Dalai Lama-type monk.
Next up is a trip to Africa to reune with an old friend, Michael (Barry Atsma). He runs into a dangerous drug smuggler named Diego (the always wonderful Jean Reno), a fortuitous meeting that will eventually save Hector's very life.
Then it's on to Los Angeles to look up an old flame, Agnes (Toni Collette). Hector has fantasized about Agnes for years, but learns that she has moved on with her life long before his surprise visit.
All the time Hector is globetrotting, he tries to keep in touch with Clara via Skype. The computer connection isn't always cooperative, so their on-line tete-a-tetes sometimes fall apart. It isn't until a brain reading session with a Professor Coreman (Christopher Plummer) that Hector realizes what truly makes him happy.
"Hector and the Search for Happiness" starts off a little quirky, complete with a shaky hand-held camera and rapid scene transitions. I wasn't sure, at that point, if I would like this film. But when the storyline shifts from Pegg's normal madcap comic style to some serious, encounters, the movie morphs into quite an epic adventure, and a truly touching love story.
Pegg displays an impressive range of emotions in his film. Whenever he's on screen --- and that's basically all the time --- he's a captivating character. His turn in this film is --- no kidding --- actually Oscar-worthy, but the field this year for lead actor candidates promises to be quite crowded.
Director and co-writer Peter Chelsom (he helmed the underrated "Shall We Dance" with Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez) is a master at staging small things that make the movie flow. For example, when Hector throws his cell phone into the bushes in one scene, he must then recover it to answer an incoming call, and the result is very funny and natural, without trying too hard to be funny.
Pike is sensational in her role, earning giant plaudits for her very emotional scene at the film's end. "Hector and the Search for Happiness" is a terrific surprise, and I highly recommend it.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!