Happiness tends to be one of those elusive, indefinable elements of humanity. It's almost impossible to manufacture, yet most people spend the majority of their lives seeking it out. But to what lengths would you go to uncover what happiness means to you?
Hector (Simon Pegg) seems safe and satisfied in his methodical existence; everything is neat and orderly, from his relationship with girlfriend Clara (Rosamund Pike) to his patients in his work as a psychiatrist. Yet as time goes by, he begins to realise the uniformity of his life doesn't help with his job, and he can't make other people happy without himself knowing what happiness is. He embarks on a journey of discovery, which takes him around the world, in search of the secret to the elusive sensation.
If this brings to mind some comparisons to the excellent 'Secret Life Of Walter Mitty', it's certainly no surprise. Both films do contain some very similar themes and plot lines, however there are also substantially notable differences. Firstly, it's much more believable to see a reserved British man reinvent his life; the scope of change offers much more opportunity than that of an American. Secondly, this film delves a little deeper and darker than 'Mitty' - there are run-ins with drug lords, prostitutes, and kidnappings.
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Yet, that's kind of the point 'Hector' is trying to make - there's not much happiness in standing still. Without the lows, you can't experience life's jubilations - love, friendship, joy, understanding, music and dance. It's this contrast of emotions that makes this film so touching; you are with Hector for his whole expedition, and while he doesn't entirely resolve the big question he sets out to answer, he learns what it is that makes him happy - and his happiness influences the lives of others around him.
This is Simon Pegg in a way that you're unlikely to have seen before. He transitions very quickly from stuffy Londoner to backpacking traveller, but Hector is so likeable and human and flawed that it's impossible not to relate to his situation. Pegg keeps the comedy under wraps, only letting it shine at the necessary moments, to great reverence - it allows Hector to appear more human and plausible. Although at an arm's length throughout the entire film, Rosamund Pike once again shows off her exemplary and versatile skills as Clara, giving a crisp and controlled performance whilst still presenting us a rationale for Hector's affection.
This is Simon Pegg in a way that you're unlikely to have seen before.
Other highlights include the always brilliant Toni Collette as Hector's old flame, with the American accent she perfected in 'United States Of Tara'. Christopher Plummer drops in as an eccentric professor researching emotions, appearing like an impenetrable bubble of happiness. But there are so many fascinating people Hector meets along the way which make this film so memorable and convincible: Stellan Skarsgård as the wealthy businessman Edward, Ming Zhao as Chinese student Ying Li, Togo Igawa as the monk, Barry Atsma as Hector's old friend Michael, Jean Reno as the criminal Diego, Chantel Herman as a woman suffering from a brain tumor. These are all cast superbly, and add tiny complexities that build that warm, fuzzy feeling 'Hector' leaves you with.
Despite its multiple international locations, the film isn't overly showy; while there are some beautiful shots, the focus is firmly on the characters of the film. As such, director Peter Chelsom ('Serendipity', 'Funny Bones') plays things relatively straight, relying on the superbly-assembled cast to make this story shine. It's not a bad move, because there's already so many characters, locations and storylines in play.
Whether you've dreamed of throwing it all away to travel the world, or simply hate the job you have, 'Hector And The Search For Happiness' will give you the motivation to make a change. When we're so suffocated with the day-to-day mundaneness of our existence, films like this are a glowing beacon to remind us that life is short, and worth living - and while we can't all jet off overseas to find our true selves, perhaps it's a reminder to appreciate the things which make us happy.