A misfiring Simon Pegg slips up yet again in Peter Chelsom’s Hector & the Search for Happiness (2014), a woeful excuse for a British dramedy. Adapted from self-help author François Lelord’s novel of the same name, the film centres on Hector (Pegg), a psychiatrist with a doting other half Clara (Rosamund Pike) and a life to envy. Yet, there’s something missing – something that’s making it difficult for him to provide his patients with the care and attention he believes they deserve. In a bid to reclaim his appetite not only for his work but for life, Hector sets off on a round-the-world adventure, making stops in Shanghai and Africa before a detour to visit old flame Agnes (Toni Collette) in Los Angeles.
Helmed by Chelsom, who also co-wrote the adapted screenplay, Hector & the Search for Happiness plays out like a mid-life crisis – only one that’s nauseating, irksome and stuffed to the hilt with hackneyed dialogue and corny sentimentality. The film doesn’t seem to be in possession of any form of moral compass (Hector has only left the country for five minutes before he’s hopping in bed with a prostitute), and all traces of humanity have been sucked dry by a need to be whimsy for whimsy’s sake. It doesn’t help that the characters are so paper-thin. No matter how hard Pegg tries, there’s nothing within Hector to make him resonate with audiences, while the roster of talented supporting actors play little more than faces, used only to propel Hector further on his feckless happiness jaunt.
Pike in particular is short-changed in her role as Hector’s left-behind girlfriend. The fact that she permits him to sow his wild oats, let alone waits for him while he does it, is utterly baffling, and represents the kind of degrading roles that are being written for actresses, especially ones as capable as Pike. From a technical point of view, the films aesthetic is pleasing enough considering the tight budget. Such locations as the Himalayas and Shanghai provide enough eye-catching beauty to drift attention away from the agonising narrative, but only until your gaze is interrupted by an on-screen graphic of some sort spelling out the exact emotion you should be feeling at that very second. If there’s a positive to be taken away from Hector & the Search for Happiness, it’s that British cinema doesn’t get much worse than this.