It takes a lot to save a romantic comedy from the preconceived notions of its genre, especially when it involves the rather clichéd theme of a man’s search for happiness. Luckily, Peter Chelsom’s newest offering, Hector and the Search for Happiness, starring Simon Pegg, has the right elements to make it an exception.


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Simon Pegg as Hector leads the cast as a quirky, unsatisfied, middle-aged psychiatrist living in London with a stable job, a beautiful, loving girlfriend (Rosamund Pike) and a real-estate-magazine-ready apartment with floor-to-ceiling windows and an abundance of natural light. Hector, however, seems to be caught in a monotonous grind, never changing, never happy. His solution? To travel the world, interviewing locals about what makes them happy, and to hopefully as a result gain some insight into how he himself can be happy as well. As he journeys around the world, he encounters and interacts with an eclectic ensemble of individuals, including Toni Collette as Hector’s old flame Agnes, Stellan Skarsgard as Edward, Togo Igawa as an old Tibetan monk, among others. This vast supporting cast not only provides entertaining stock character humor, but also, in an almost mythic fashion, serves as real-life shoulder angels supporting Hector on his illustrious journey, prescribing nuggets of wisdom for Hector as he bounces along. Pegg himself is an excellent casting choice, delicately embodying a troubled urban professional with a subtle childish naiveté.

I’ll admit that I wasn’t too keen on sitting there for two hours just to experience another recycled version of the Joseph Campbell “Hero’s Journey”, or a retelling of Herman Hesse’s spiritual self-discovery novel “Siddhartha.” Another white dude who travels the world to find the key to happiness through exotic locales, two-dimensional cultural stereotypes, and a healthy dose of Asian women—what else is new? Thankfully, these overused tactics are forgivable, for the movie manages to find, from the outset, an interesting, unforced humor that these elements are all a part of, a humor that luckily remained throughout the rest of Hector’s story. Framed as a travel diary, peppered with cheesy journal-entry wisdom that appeared once in a while, and narrated with that certain indispensible sense of humor, going on the journey with him will, if you allow it, take you to all parts of your emotional spectrum. It’s a difficult task to present the heft of the subject matter in an uncontrived, light-hearted, and accessible way, all the while remaining meaningful, but Chelsom manages to do so. This is not to say that the movie relied on satire, or made light of its topic in any way. However, the occasional waft of heightened reality (flying on “East Aerolines”) that came with the wild, almost implausible storyline in a world and in a story that was otherwise incredibly truthful and relatable reminded the audience that sometimes, the only way to learn more about life is to laugh at it, and to not take it too seriously.

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Is “Hector and the Search for Happiness” life-changing? No. Is it a revolutionary piece of filmmaking? No. But, despite relying on some hackneyed stereotypes, Hector distances itself from its low-stakes rom-com counterparts. It’s witty without being strained, thoughtful without being overly intellectual, and comedic without being too slapstick-y. Most importantly, we care about Hector. Watching this film was like stumbling upon a new, unpretentious coffee joint you’ve never visited before, and best of all, they have good coffee too! It’s enjoyable, it’s refreshing, and of course, it’s also very, very important.

The film hits theaters this Friday, Sept. 19.

 

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