This is a bit of a yo-yo of a film. The longwinded title is a little off-putting, suggesting children’s story meets self-help book. But then you notice the font used is like the Tintin books! and following a thrill-seeking intro that sees a Tintin lookalike in peril in a small plane, the adventurer’s curiosity in us all is surely piqued.
So too there is an ambivalent enjoyment as the story unfolds. The set-up is terrific in wit and pace. Simon Pegg plays the titular psychiatrist who spends his days being paid benevolently low fees to coax his clients to happiness. His own life seems perfect – a beautiful girlfriend Clara (Gone Girl’s Rosamund Pike) ensures everything is in order (“Time to rise, time to shine!” she crows as he removes his anti-snore strips), and the bonny clarinet soundtrack shows us Hector is comfortable, stable and loved. However, something is (inevitably) missing – so Hector heads off on a voyage of Tintinesque proportions to discover What Makes People Happy.
Pegg has the perfect demeanour for a boy-explorer and had Peter Jackson’s Tintin film been live-action, he would have been an obvious casting choice (ironically Pegg was instead one of the animated Thom(p)son twins). His naïve British charm is aptly suited to Hector’s well-meaning, slightly bumbling exploits as he encounters a raft of international characters from China to Tibet to Africa. Pegg skips easily from physical comedy to genuine warmth as Hector’s connections with strangers play out a timely indictment on first-world problems and malaise.
Director Peter Chelsom presumably has “Means Well” as his middle name, with a career in lightweight fare such as Serendipity and Shall We Dance? Here he has corralled a heavyweight cast (Stellan Skarsgard, Jean Reno, Toni Collette) in a smorgasbord of exotic locations, and it is thanks to fine actors like Collette that the narrative mostly stays on message (even if the message isn’t new).
Reminiscent of Ben Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty in tone and story, we have a slightly daft, grown man with good intentions having unexpected revelations so that we, sitting in a movie theatre, can open our own minds to the endless possibilities our world offers. None of us is going to encounter a drug cartel or Skype from a Tibetan monastery, but it’s nice to live vicariously. It’s just a shame that, by treading so lightly when the underlying message is so potent, Hector will probably leave most of us largely unaffected as we trudge back into the real world.