In fact, it’s a good bet you may already know if you want to take a whirl based on that cast alone. It’s a terrific lineup of actors, with Pegg in particular turning in amiable work. He plays Hector, a psychiatrist experiencing something of a mid-life crisis. With the support of his girlfriend Clara (Pike), he embarks on an international voyage in an attempt to determine the true meaning and source of happiness. Is happiness the freedom to be with more than one romantic partner? His time spent with Ying Li (Ming Zhao) in China leads to some insights. His research project deepens as his travels continue. Health, wealth, companionship, family, and brain chemistry are among the elements that come sharply into focus as Hector doggedly attempts to pinpoint exactly what makes a person happy.
Pegg’s wonderfully sarcastic edges are a bit dulled in a role that seems purpose-built to produce a touchy-feely, emotional response. At the risk of pigeonholing the film, Hector often feels like a typical “chick flick,” but pitched at a more universal audience. Its sentiments regarding the pursuit of happiness lean too hard on Hallmark clichés rather than anything revelatory. Hector experiences some harrowing setbacks, including abduction and subsequent imprisonment. But director Peter Chelsom (Hannah Montana: The Movie, Serendipity) seems to have difficulty hitting the highs and lows of Hector’s ordeal.
When all is said and done, Hector and the Search for Happiness is a bit too cute for its own good. But the cast makes even the sappier aspects relatively palatable, with most of the supporting players contributing at least one standout moment. Those hoping for a glimmer of the fearless Rosamund Pike’s performance in Gone Girl will likely heave a big sigh of disappointment by the end. Pike is saddled with a superficially written role; underused and sadly denied the kind of character arc given to Pegg’s Hector.
Fox’s DVD edition includes a pair of featurettes, “Around the World with Simon Pegg” and “The Making of Hector and the Search for Happiness.” There’s also an audio commentary track by Peter Chelsom. Though it never delivers the emotional catharsis it’s so clearly striving for, there are moments that make Hector worth a spin, especially for fans of Simon Pegg.