Brief Reviews: Hector and the Search for Happiness

June 11th, 2013, 3pm

If you’ve considered seeing Hector and the Search for Happiness, ride along for a lovely tale of travel, self-discovery, and cheeseballiness. If that’s not your scene, better save your admission money for one of the other late 2014 gems on the horizon.

Imagine if you had worked your whole life to be able to take a long vacation, see the world, and chase after that most elusive of emotions, happiness. So unfolds the premise of Hector and the Search for Happiness, based on the book by François Lelord and helmed on the silver screen by Peter Chelsom (whose most notable work to this point is the frankly terrifying Hannah Montana movie). With Simon Pegg and Rosamund Pike as the two leads however, my tension melts away: this is a movie with talent on screen, and while even the most talented actors can be ruined by ensemble and directorial problems, Hector manages to avoid this pothole and provide a truly engaging and visually stunning piece of work.

Without revealing too much, I can say that I was correct to place Hector and the Search for Happiness on my recent list of ‘things to watch and inspire your wanderlust.’ Set throughout the hemispheres–London, Shanghai, Tibet, South Africa, Los Angeles, and more–this movie cuts through the Walter Mitty-esque softening of the true trauma of travel to take a long hard look at what makes people happy, especially when their lifestyle seems to offer them so little. (P.S. Awww, Walter Mitty was my first film review! Isn’t that sweet…?)

I found that unlike The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Hector isn’t afraid to show the good and the bad: how much squalor, heartbreak, shallowness, deceit, disingenuousness, and downright awfulness there is in the world. Lest you think it’s a tear-jerker (there is a moment at the end, of course!), Hector is tempered with a quite realistic assessment of the fact that throughout this world, in poverty and in power, Happiness (with a capital H) is really a matter of perception and a state of mind.

In addition, Hector takes a few bold steps: while some critics have deplored the unevenness with which the films grand cinematography plays out, I found it to be perfectly balanced for a ‘normal’ audience–that is to say, an American audience who more than likely doesn’t hold a passport and has never seen these places. It’s not meant to be a National Geographic miniseries, after all. Additionally, the use of mixed media–incorporating Hector’s drawings and script into the screen experience makes it feel more personable and intimate, as though this really is a journey we’re taking with Hector, rather than a narrative told after the fact.

At the end of the day, Hector and the Search for Happiness isn’t an Oscar bid. It’s not meant to rock you to your core or inspire you to finally apply for that long overdue passport. It’s meant to explore humanity throughout the world as a means of providing context for our–the audience’s–distinctly Westernized approach to happiness (reflected most acutely in Stellan Skarsgård’s Shanghai businessman). Hector isn’t about travel–it’s not called Hector and the Search for All The Passport Stamps. It’s about happiness, challenging our own assumptions of what really matters, and aiming for you to walk out of the theater with a little bit for your brain to chew on. For the director who previously gave us the pre-tongue Miley, that’s a damn fine feat to accomplish.

David Wade said thanks.

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Valerie Stimac

Constraints create lots of great things, diamonds and creativity among them.

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