HECTOR AND THE SEARCH for Happiness is a peculiar attempt to make a Michel Gondry film without Michel Gondry. All the components are there: a shifting between fantasy and reality, endearingly low-fi effects, a charming cast. Technically, it's not bad, but it's also one of the most frustrating films I've ever seen.
Hector (Simon Pegg) is a successful psychiatrist with a supportive girlfriend (Rosamund Pike) and a handful of whitebread affectations. Everything is going fine, until suddenly it isn't. That's right: Hector has midlife white guy ennui.
Hector's solution to his perceived lack of authenticity (or whatever) is to travel the world in search of what it means to be truly happy. His quest translates to collecting a dozen maddeningly anodyne platitudes ("Nostalgia isn't what it used to be"), which could've been more easily found by reading the sides of 12 Starbucks cups. (I'll grant this would have made for a worse film.) On his voyages, Hector encounters quirky locals filled with the simple wisdom of the foreign, as well as a few benevolent white people who help him out of jams. Everyone speaks pretty good English.
Hector is a movie that almost wants to have a conversation about white/male/class privilege—almost. Hector literally circumnavigates the globe on a whim, and also tells a Chinese prostitute he isn't rich, and both of these facts are presented as unworthy of further comment. Hector is a fish swimming through the waters of power and agency with only the dimmest inkling they even exist. Hector argues that the barriers to happiness are snobbishness and a reluctance to grow up, so in the end Hector marries his girlfriend and buys a moped. Problems solved!