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maryann johanson, ruining movies since 1997

Hector and the Search for Happiness movie review: unhappymess

Hector and the Search for Happiness red light

A rich white man tours the misery of others to learn about happiness. Yes, it is as offensive as it sounds.
I’m “biast” (pro): love Simon Pegg

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

I have not read the source material

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Are you poor, living in squalor, working a demeaning job, suffering from a lack of white male privilege, and/or fatally ill? Well, you should thank your lucky stars that you’re not Hector (Simon Pegg: Cuban Fury, The World’s End). He may be a wealthy psychiatrist living the high life in London, but he’s just not happy. Not with his gorgeous, enormous flat. Not with his beautiful, brilliant, and attentive girlfriend, Clara (Rosamund Pike: A Long Way Down, The World’s End). So off he goes, jetting around the world — sometimes in first class! — to find happiness. Like you do. (Clara will stay home, like a good girl, and wait for Hector to get his shit together.) Or maybe he’ll simply find some damn thing that will make us sympathize with him? In this, he will not succeed.

From China to South Africa to Los Angeles, Hector is granted insultingly simplistic nuggets of greeting-card wisdom from people mostly in woeful situations: dying from curable diseases, living amidst violent conflict, prostituting themselves, the usual sort of everyday horrors that plenty of nonrich, nonwhite, nonmen find themselves enduring. And yes, since you asked, the concept of a rich white man — who is so clueless about life that he doesn’t even realize that he is rich — touring the misery of others to learn about happiness is fairly offensive.

“People who are afraid of death are afraid of life,” he discovers. And “Listening is loving.” That’s right, listening is his highly educated, very well-paid job, and he needed to go halfway around the world to have someone tell him this. He’s even deeply touched by it! (To be fair to Hector, he is clearly the world’s worst psychiatrist: he barely listens to his patients, appears to have little appreciation for basic human nature, and seemingly cannot interpret obvious human behaviors, like what his encounter in Shanghai was really about until he was smacked over the head with the truth.)

But hey. A laughing Buddhist monk (Togo Igawa: 47 Ronin, Gambit) is thrown in so the stereotypes aren’t all gloomy ones. (Though he doesn’t even get a name. He’s just “Old Monk.”) Cultural appropriation can be fun, too!

Worst of all is the insane-making upshot of it all: Are you poor, living in squalor, working a demeaning job, suffering from a lack of white male privilege, and/or fatally ill? Chances are you’re actually happy and wise, so don’t bother aspiring to Hector’s life: he is actually aspiring to yours.


Hector and the Search for Happiness (2014)
US/Can release: Sep 19 2014
UK/Ire release: Aug 15 2014

Flick Filosopher Real Rating: rated MPDEFC (contains manic pixie dream exotic foreign cultures)
MPAA: rated R for language and some brief nudity
BBFC: rated 15 (strong language)

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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