'Hector and the Search for Happiness' - Movie Review

Hector and the Search for Happiness started life as a book. Specifically, a French book called Le Voyage d'Hector ou la Recherche du bonheur by François Lelord. I read it in English translation, and it's an utterly marvellous book. Hector, like Lelord, is a psychiatrist. He's become dissatisfied with his life, and very abruptly departs on a world-spanning journey to find out what happiness is. The book is written in the rhythms and language of a children's book, a conceit to tell us that these are simple answers to things we need to know ... but the content definitely isn't for children - including, as it does, sex, cheating in a relationship, kidnapping, and a significant threat of death. The "children's book" presentation is almost impossible to bring from page to screen: they try, with animations, flashbacks, and a papier-mâché plane. It's more successful than I expected, but less than ideal.

Peter Chelsom, who directed this film version, faced the same problem others have faced: he's taking an internal voyage of discovery and trying to convert it into a visual format. Think of the highly successful (and also quite wonderful) book Eat, Pray, Love, and how badly the conversion of that to a movie went. Taking an internal journey and making it into a movie isn't impossible, but it takes an extraordinary director.

The book verges on magic-realist, with crazy events happening almost back-to-back and Hector drawing lessons from each one. But we process things very differently as a movie, and they've packed in nearly all the crazy events of the book in the short span of the movie, which becomes slightly overwhelming. It also doesn't allow you time to sit and contemplate what any given lesson would mean in your life. Simon Pegg does fairly well as Hector, and gets good support from the other actors. Ultimately I quite enjoyed it with a number of really beautiful moments, but I'm not sure someone unfamiliar with the book would find it so successful. (The critics didn't think so: it's currently at 35% on Rotten Tomatoes.)