Late-90s sitcom Spaced will always be a favourite of mine. It’s combination of off-the-wall humour and subtly-infused pop-culture references (especially the video game ones) still makes me laugh without fail. It was the first big step of a now very successful career for one Simon Pegg, who starred in and co-wrote that sitcom. Since then, he’s helped make the Cornetto trilogy and played a part in two major franchises, Mission: Impossible and Star Trek. Not too shabby at all.
Pegg is clearly trying to broaden his horizons with this film, the same as his character, Hector, who is sick of the mundanity of his life as a psychiatrist. He has an over-protective girlfriend (the exquisite Rosamund Pike) to boot, who caters for his every whim. He decides to travel the world to try and establish what happiness is and how he can apply it to his life and his patients. The film almost falls at the first hurdle when you start thinking, “Why are you leaving Rosamund Pike, you pillock?!”
With the comic credentials of Pegg, I was expecting more of a comedy. The tonality of this film is all over the place. IMDB reflects this by categorising it under Adventure, Comedy and Drama. When this film tries to be funny it falls flat, a play on the words happiness (you know the one I mean) is particularly painful and is repeated ad nauseam in the subsequent scene. The adventurous and dramatic aspects are more successful in their implementation. I’ll come to that.
Aside from the misfiring comedy, I was jarred by Hector deciding a propos of nothing to make China his first destination. There is no build-up to establish why he would prefer to start his journey there except his colleague asking him where he wants to go. Director and co-writer Peter Chelsom isn’t bothered about geographical accuracy. Hector’s second destination is “Africa”, probably to keep things simple for American audiences. Looks a hell of a lot like Kenya to me.
The transformation of Hector from a shy psychiatrist to an everyman who can spark up a conversation and dance with everyone is another improbability that annoyed me. Pegg, prior to this transformation, appears to be channeling Michael Gove in both his looks and mannerisms when he is in psychiatrist mode. Being like the most hated education secretary ever does not an endearing character make.
I’ve never seen Rosamund Pike in a proper lead role. I’ve seen her in Made in Dagenham and World’s End, and in both she plays a kind, likeable person with little to do. This film does not change that perceived stereotype. She needs a David Lynch to take her under his wing and make some weird films like he did with Laura Dern.
When the film forgets about being a comedy it can hit the mark. Hector’s trip in “Africa” takes a turn for the worse and the experience is genuinely harrowing. He has some profound interactions that may bring a tear to the eye at times. Stellan Skarsgard, brilliant in Nymphomaniac, reins it in as a fun-loving banker. Toni Collette (Muriel’s Wedding) gets a major billing in the credits but is only in it for 10 minutes. She is Agnes, an old flame of Hector’s, whose highlight is snapping into an emotional soliloquy about “what might have been.”
A term being bandied about for this film is feel-good. It does make some valid points about the concept and pursuit of happiness but nothing you shouldn’t know already. When Hector makes his ultimate decision about where his happiness lies I was not without emotion. Pegg mustn’t have been doing too bad to make me root for his character like that. Not a film essential for cinematic viewing if you catch my meaning, Frodo.
Hector and the Search for Happiness is now showing at Picturehouse at FACT. For more information visit the following link: http://bit.ly/1uSt7Gz