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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Hector and the Search for Happiness

Merely wades along the shallow and sugary edges of the self-help pond.
By Sarah Ward
October 27, 2014
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Hector and the Search for Happiness

Merely wades along the shallow and sugary edges of the self-help pond.
By Sarah Ward
October 27, 2014
  shares

Ever wanted to watch Simon Pegg recreate Eat Pray Love? Then you're in luck. It may head to China, Africa and Los Angeles in a quest for contentment, but there's little in Hector and the Search for Happiness that wasn't first seen in that well-known book turned film — other than numerous references to Tintin, that is.

Pegg plays the titular therapist, living a seemingly satisfactory life with his devoted girlfriend, Clara (Rosamund Pike). He thinks he is happy, until a dream featuring Hergé's boy adventurer starts him wondering about the meaning of the word. His practice is flourishing and patients accept his guidance willingly, yet he's no longer certain his orderly existence qualifies him to dispense advice. Broadening his horizons becomes the obvious course of action, as Hector sets off around the world in the pursuit of exhilaration and enlightenment.

Food, spirituality and romance ensue in the adaptation of psychiatrist-turned-author François Lelord's novel of the same name, in an effort comprised of episodic encounters with thinly drawn characters. A wealthy businessman (Stellan Skarsgård), ruthless drug lord (Jean Reno), former flame (Toni Collette) and distinguished professor (Christopher Plummer) cross Hector's path, each imparting life lessons. To ensure audiences are paying attention, every piece of wisdom Hector gleans is also emblazoned on the screen in scribbled handwriting.

In a travelogue film brimming with platitudes, it feels fitting that what is seen in Hector and the Search for Happiness — scrawled statements of supposed knowledge aside — fares better than what is heard. The feature's central performances are amiable, with Pegg more earnest than usual, and Pike luminous, though barely used. From the UK to the US and everywhere in between, the far-flung settings are handsomely and brightly photographed. Alas, a likeable cast and lush images can't overcome trite and troubling material that shouts its sentiments as loudly as it can.

Though poised as a warm comedy, there's little that's funny about a script sketchily espousing "be yourself" teachings likely to be found in fortune cookies and overdosing in schmaltz as Hector mingles with babies and the dying — and they're the less concerning elements. Insensitive cultural tourism reinforces stereotypical perceptions and highlights the film's privileged perspective, as does the handling of Hector and Clara's relationship, with marriage and parenthood posed as the real sources of happiness.

Coming from the director of Hannah Montana: The Movie and Serendipity, Peter Chelsom, the feature plays out like a cartoonish fairytale, but the lack of serious intent and the overt adherence to formula doesn't excuse its offensiveness or laziness. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty did soul-searching globetrotting before, and better. Hector and the Search for Happiness merely wades along the shallow and sugary edges of the self-help pond.

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