In case you were wondering, yes, Simon Pegg does play yet another overgrown man-child in Hector and the Search For Happiness. It’s essentially the same role that we’ve seen him play before in films like Shaun of the Dead and The World’s End—the complacent not-so-grown-up that life has passed by—however, the only difference is that Nick Frost isn’t there for him to play off of.
Hector (Pegg) is unhappy, and after watching the first half of Hector and the Search For Happiness, it’s easy to see why. Directed by Peter Chelsom and based on the novel of the same name by French psychiatrist François Lelord, the film finds Hector, a British psychiatrist, in the midst of what seems to be a perpetual battle for his inner child: “His rates hadn’t changed in years, and neither did Hector,” says an unidentified narrator during one of the voiceovers that bookend the film.
His relationship with his longtime girlfriend Clara (played by former costar Rosamund Pike), a woman that “doesn’t know the meaning of the words ‘maternity’ or ‘leave,’ ” is also in stasis; they go almost everywhere together, their apartment is tidy to the point of sterility, she cuts his nails, and they even wear matching bath robes. During a session with one of his clients, he comes to the realization that he’s not truly happy, and much of the film follows him on his search for happiness—a search that leads him on a journey through China, Africa, and even the United States (the film is set in the UK).
He meets an assorted cast of characters throughout his journey—businessmen, Chinese prostitutes, African housewives, Colombian drug lords, the terminally ill—all with different, yet valid, methods of achieving true happiness, and though the film does not specify which method is the best, it quietly settles on the best one for Hector.
At its core, Hector is about a boy and his dog (symbolism for his childhood), or, at least, it would be if the film had a clear direction, and that’s what makes it so problematic. Essentially, the film occupies an awkward space: it doesn’t know whether it wants to be a heartwarming, family-friendly romp or an adult comedy, so it doesn’t choose—instead attempting to do both, often to mediocre results. Yet, while that fact would normally cripple most films, it’s Pegg (along with the cinematography) that truly saves the film through his portrayal of Hector, injecting equal parts humor and pathos into a character that could’ve easily been one-dimensional in the hands of a less experienced actor.
All things considered, though most of it mines the same sympathetic ground as other film adaptations, such as The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Pegg’s magnetic performance is the reason why you’d probably be better off watching Hector. And happier too.