Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Hector And The Search For Happiness

Directed by: Peter Chelsom

Produced by: Klaus Dohle
Trish Dolman
Christine Haebler
Phil Hunt
Compton Ross
Judy Tossell

Screenplay by: Peter Chelsom
Tinker Lindsay
Maria von Heland

Based on: Hector And The Search For Happiness by Francois Lelord

Starring: Simon Pegg
Rosamund Pike 
Toni Collette
Stellan Skarsgard
Jean Reno
Christopher Plummer
Barry Atsma

Music by: Dan Mangan
Jesse Zubot

Cinematography by: Kolja Brandt

Editing by: Claus Wehlisch

Studio(s): Egoli Tossell Film
Film Afrika Worldwide
Erfttal Film
German Federal Film Board
Screen Siren Pictures
Wild Bunch Germany

Distributed by: Koch Film

Release date(s): August 15, 2014 (United Kingdom)

September 19, 2014 (United States)

Running time: 120 minutes

Country: United Kingdom

Language: English

Production budget: $15.4 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $3, 206, 673

Aloha, this week I'm reporting from London, England, and because it's mostly a chill-out week I can't think of anything better to do than to visit round a bunch of the local art-house cinemas. That's one thing they certainly don't have a fond tradition of back home in Northern Ireland. As far as I know, there's the Queens Film Theatre and that's it really. I mean, I was shocked to find that when I exhibited The Act Of Killing earlier in the year I was, aside from the Queens Film Theatre and at a university seminar in Derry, the only person have actually shown the movie over there, which is a crying shame. Over here, it's like a haven for cineastes and with places like The Barbican (first time visit, truly incredible), you can see why people gravitate towards this city. There's something in it that sees to stimulate the imagination. Or, maybe that's just cultural displacement and my way of bemoaning the fact that Belfast is ten-fifteen years behind in every department and facet of life. Anywho, for all the latest and greatest in the movies, and the occasional blabber, keep your eyes posted!

Today's movie up for review is Hector And The Search For Happiness, the latest comedic venture for Simon Pegg. Pegg has had an up-down battle as far as his 'star' is concerned: he's in two major motion-picture franchises (as Benji Dunn is the Mission: Impossible series and Scotty in the rebooted Star Trek movies), and his work with Edgar Wright and Nick Frost can easily count as among some of the best comedy of the relatively new century, Shaun Of The Dead in particular standing out as a comedy classic, but his solo ventures have been a mixed bag, and even some of the better ones like How To Lose Friends And Alienate People have never quite reached the aspiration for greatness that I think is there is some of the projects he chooses, and no more is the case more apparent than here. This film is a dramedy, a mixture of both drama and comedy, the kind of which occasionally becomes small-fry Oscar-bait, something which is humorous and yet tries to tell us about all the important things in life etc etc. Plot synopsis goes that Hector (Simon Pegg) is a London-based psychiatrist, with a cushy lifestyle, thanks to the financial cover his job provides him, a devoted and attractive girlfriend Clara (Rosamund Pike), and yet he feels discontent with his routinised life, that there's something missing. And so, Hector decides to go on a globe-trotting adventure (which has been described somewhat dismissively by some in the press as "Eat Pray Love for men") in order to find out what makes people happy. Shall we dance?

(Yesterday I wrote all the positives for this movie but it appears that Blogger has once again failed to save it for me, so I'll try and muster some degree of enthusiasm for this one.)

Starting with the good, I thought that the character of Hector was relatively well-written, sympathetic even, and that Simon Pegg is most definitely the right person to play the part. We've always know him to be a capable comedic actor, able to play neurotic and socially awkward/uncomfortable people, so it isn't a great stretch, but it's hard not to acknowledge him, given that he does quite clearly give it his all, especially when it comes to the film's more dramatic scenes. The standout in terms of the supporting cast is definitely Stellan Skarsgard, who I thought did a fine job of playing a cranky business man. He's someone who is able to make a scowl or a furrowed brow say a thousand words, and when he does speak, going almost into soliloquies about how he came to be so thoroughly miserable, he's able to make it sound so engaging. Also, while the same cannot be said for much of the script, I thought that there were certain scenes and sequences that were written and directed rather well. For instance, the montage involving Hector listening to his various patients ad nausea, with the voices getting switched around and what have you is not only very funny but hammer the point regarding Hector's discontent at his life. Finally, as should be expected with a travelogue film that goes globetrotting around various different parts of the Earth and does a lot of soul-searching (blah, blah, blah!), it is a technically sound picture. The cinematography from Kolja Brandt is indeed picaresque and, despite the film's low budget, is a key element in suggesting the scope and getting across the film's central concept.

Now, as I mentioned there Blogger did not save my last paragraph, so I'm sure I probably wrote far more interesting things to say yesterday. However, going back over Hector And The Search For Happiness and my lack of enthusiasm as regards to reviewing the movie is indicative of the effect that the film had upon me. In the course of my writing about this film, I've been going back and forth between various Wikipedia articles (my Film Studies lecturers would be aghast at my using Wikipedia, but so fuck! I check all my sources, unlike some semi-professional critics, cough, Smithey, cough cough!), and every time I return to this film's Wikipedia entry, my brain almost does an inward sigh at the fact that yes, once again, I am going to have to continue to keep addressing movie. Yes, it's Hector And The Search For Happiness, with Simon Pegg smiling and dressed like a stereotypical travelling type, khakis and scarf and polaroid camera and bucket hat, yadda yadda yadda. And why do I have little enthusiasm for this film? I'll try and be as properly critical about this as possible, so we'll start with the script, which is just absolutely dire, really horrible. The film follows this almost episodic structure in terms of Hector going from place to place, finding out different potential solutions for his woes, and we are given these inane, bland and saccharine life lessons about what it means to be happy. At one point, Hector has a flight with a woman who has a brain tumour, and feels wonderful convincing the pilot to fly at a lower altitude, and this is meant to be one of the great heart-rending scenes of the film, as she is visiting her sister to more or less say goodbye, and it's done with such a mawkishly pious sense of self-importance that I couldn't buy any or it, dialogue, plausibility, anything. Also, when the film looks to be suggesting something potentially challenging or interesting such as polygamy, when Hector goes head over heels for a Chinese student, it back-pedals and pulls out of it (the sexual politics of this sequences is staggering. I initially wrote this sequence in as a positive, but in reflection it's more negative). The beautiful Chinese student isn't a student, she's a prostitute who the horrible businessman hired to service Hector and because he was drunk it's okay and therefore did not technically cheat on his girlfriend. Speaking of girlfriend, perfectly capable actors like Rosamund Pike, Jean Reno, Toni Collette and especially Christopher Plummer, who gets the dubious honour of playing the guru of Happiness Studies at UCLA, get saddled with lacklustre characters. At least Pike and Reno get to ham it up a bit, Plummer, even though he's meant to be an eighty-year-old man-child, is the wise old man who's meant to be serious and explain everything basil expository to the audience. I would say probably negative things about the music, but frankly I can't remember any music worth talking about. Finally, the last big problem of the film was combination of directorial and editing problems. A film like this has no business being over a hundred minutes, and yet for near two hours I sat there going "what am I doing here?" Claus Wehlisch's editing ensures that everything is dragged out to the nth degree, but at the end of the day he's only doing the job. Director Peter Chelsom really should have been aware just how much his movie was dragging it's fists along the ground, I would say like a gorilla, but that would be a disservice to the innate intelligence of primates, an intelligence and cop on, as they say in Mayo, which this film greatly lacks.

Originally, my feelings about Hector And The Search For Happiness were more positive than this, and even still I can find a number of things that I did like about. I thought that Simon Pegg and Stellan Skarsgard both delivered good performances, there were a couple of sequences, such as the therapy montage, whose humour indicated at a way savvier picture, and it is a very well-shot movie, appropriate for something of this travelogue nature. However, it is a movie that surrounds itself in the worst kind of mawkish sentimentality. Everything in the script that is potentially provocative, challenging and interesting being stamped out by stupid middle of the road, politically correct conclusions about how we should be living our lives. None of this does a service to us or the calibre of actors involved, and it has no right being two hours long, which, although the editing isn't as fine as it should be, is ultimately down to director Peter Chelsom not having enough sense to realise that his movie was dragging on and boring the tits out of the audience. There's more happiness in Morrissey's life of moaning about ghastliness and being "the son and heir of a shyness that is criminally vulgar." 

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 3.7/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Back (in action, not in black. Speaking of Back In Black, my sympathies are with the family of AC/DC's Malcolm Young)

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