He might be Hollywood’s go-to guy, but Simon Pegg hasn’t quite made it yet as a mainstream British movie star. Beyond his cult fanbase, Pegg’s preference for under-achieving films with unwieldy titles has obscured his career. What is he searching for?
Definitive answers aren’t forthcoming in Hector And The Search For Happiness, but at least the quest is heading in the right direction. Pegg plays Hector, a psychiatrist whose perfect life is troubled by a niggling sense of ennui. Abandoning his girlfriend Clara (Rosamund Pike), he sets off on a globe-trotting voyage of self-discovery.
The omens aren’t good. This is an English-language adaptation of François Lelord’s self-help book. Cue a series of Esperanto life lessons (“many people only see happiness in their future”) during romanticised encounters with beatific Chinese monks and stew-cooking Africans.
Fortunately, director Peter Chelsom marries whimsy with wry wisdom. A flintier affair than the similar The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, it sees Hector exposed to real peril during an kidnap subplot. There’s also a welcome vein of mockery at the expense of Hector’s First World problems, as Chelsom deploys a strong supporting cast (Toni Collette, Jean Reno) to call out Hector on his do-gooding.
As for Pegg, this is more dramatic fare than usual and he meets the challenge, confirming the hints in The World’s End that he has ambitions beyond comedy. Pegg makes Hector a likeably flawed everyman and achieves enough serenity to suggest his own search is over.
It might look as though Hallmark, Benetton and Richard Curtis have collaborated on a movie, but Chelsom’s lightly subversive, self-aware tone bolsters Pegg’s best shot yet at a mass-appeal crowd-pleaser.