Smothering is mothering with an S!
It’s hard to really dive into Hector and the Search for Happiness without going into spoiler territory as well and I don’t want to ruin the journey for anyone because that’s the point of the film. So instead, I’ll start by admitting to the fact I haven’t read the book so in terms of a comparison I’m unable to offer one.
At least not a literary comparison, for there are other comparisons I can draw which will help me explain the type of film this is as well as what kind of person will likely enjoy it. Hector and the Search for Happiness doesn’t bury the lead at all. The title is about as literal as a person can get. It stars Simon Pegg (Hot Fuzz) as the titular Hector, a psychiatrist who goes on a search for happiness. Pretty straightforward, as is the reason he chooses to go on the trip but I won’t spoil that either.
All you really need to know before viewing is Hector and the Search for Happiness is that it’s the story of a man who goes on a journey, meets people, does things, and all the while tries to learn what makes people happy. There have been many movies which embrace this same theme of taking a journey, be it literal or mental or what have you, in order to determine a new direction for one’s life. And Hector and the Search for Happiness strikes the right chord with me because it echoes some of the better examples of those like-minded films.
It reminds me of High Fidelity in terms of John Cusack’s performance as Rob. He’s funny at times but never out for a laugh, and neither is Pegg. Hector is a comedy but I found myself tearing up just as much, and the emotional resonance is another thing tying it to High Fidelity. That film has laughs but a real heart as well and I enjoyed the echoes in Hector. Not to mention both lead characters make lists.
While Hector doesn’t stray into fantasy there is a touch of animation within the framework. Nothing as dominant as Who Framed Roger Rabbit but rather these touches are flights of whimsy, and bring me to the next film I found myself thinking of when trying to describe this. While it may lack the airiness of Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion both feature characters going on a journey. But that’s not what Hector brings forth for me. Instead I think about the joy Romy and Michelle display, a naiveté which one could laugh at more readily if we weren’t jealous of the ease with which they accept themselves and each other. Their brushes with the ludicrous still feel somewhat grounded, just like Hector’s animation. Both films take elements which should feel out of place and instead weave them into the foundation of their stories and have us cheering for the main characters from the word go.
Which ties nicely into the final film Hector reminds me of: (500) Days of Summer. While there aren’t direct scene-to-scene comparisons here I still find echoes of Hector and Clara’s (Rosamunde Pike, Gone Girl) relationship within Tom and Summer’s. But more than that there’s something alike in both Tom and Hector’s passive approaches to life.
However if you need more to convince you to see this film consider the other stars: Jean Reno (Le Chef), Stellan Skarsgård (Thor: The Dark World), Christopher Plummer (Elsa and Fred), and Toni Collette (United States of Tara). Their appearances help keep the film moving along at a fast pace and each character has something different to contribute, lending the simple story layers of complexity.
I’m not sure a Blu-ray release would have done more for this film, though the global locations certainly wouldn’t suffer from the crispest presentation possible. As it stands, however, the DVD doesn’t lack in the technical area at all. The 2.40:1 video transfer is clean and handles the locations well to say the least, balancing the white and black levels admirably. This becomes important for a certain stretch of the film in particular where the darkness is skillfully used to create an atmosphere for Hector. The audio is a strong Dolby 5.1 surround track and blends with the video transfer seamlessly, truly presenting a cohesive experience.
The special features are limited but present so I’m thankful for them. First up is a director’s commentary track, next are two BTS featurettes with Simon Pegg being interviewed about the four continents the crew shot on for this film and your standard making of. And rounding out the trio is the theatrical trailer.
Hector and the Search for Happiness is appealing on many levels. For fans of Simon Pegg, here’s another nuanced performance to admire. For those who enjoy other films which touch upon existential, personal, life-altering questions and feature character journeys (both literal and metaphorical) you’ll find lots to love here. And for those who enjoy a simple story told in lush, global landscapes there’s plenty of eye candy. It’s easy to recommend.