In “Hector and the Search for Happiness,” a bedtime story for the eternal man-child, Simon Pegg plays a psychiatrist who lives in a world of WASP male privilege yet remains dissatisfied with his existence.
Hector’s premature bout of midlife crisis prompts him to break from the stability he shares with career woman Clara (Rosamund Pike). He sets out to trot the globe, mining seemingly primitive cultures for simple pleasures and compiling them into a guide to life.
First stop is Shanghai, where expat millionaire Edward (Stellan Skarsgard) shows him the kind of good time that money can buy, complete with a high-end call girl Yi Li (Ming Zhao, who neither has an accent nor loves him long time yet nevertheless conjures the same kind of ugly Asian caricature some might recall from “Full Metal Jacket.”)
After discovering Buddhism in Tibet, Hector ventures to an unspecified and uncivilized African country (South Africa is the stand-in), where he learns the recipe for sweet potato stew and the joys of providing medical relief (not to mention the fact that he should be grateful just to be alive). Hector’s culture-shock tour continues in America, where his college sweetheart, Agnes (Toni Collette), breaks the news that the world in fact does not revolve around him.
In the end, Hector ultimately learns to be empathetic toward Clara and his patients. The problem for some viewers, however, is that women and minorities will still find him more exasperating than whimsical. The film reaffirms a view that they are somehow less than his equals. Hector may indeed learn that narcissism stands in the way of happiness, but he also walks away with his privileges intact and unchallenged.
“Hector and the Search for Happiness.”
MPAA rating: R for language, brief nudity.
Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes. Playing:
At ArcLight Hollywood; Landmark, West L.A.