Hector and the Search for Happiness, starring Simon Pegg and Rosamund Pike, is the story of a man, Hector, on a journey that he thinks is a search for happiness, but what he discovers is really a search for meaning. It’s a better-than-average slice of life film in which Pegg gives a very strong and authentic performance. Nerdist talked with director Peter Chelsom about the film taking a stance on happiness, his problem with romantic comedies and slapping around Simon Pegg.
Chelsom, who might be best known for directing Serendipity and Hannah Montana: The Movie feels like Hector is more like the type of movies he began making in the first place, explaining, “It’s actually a return to a place of filmmaking where I started. It was two films, Hear My Song and Funny Bones… If you saw those films, Hear My Song and Funny Bones, you would — and I’ve had this a lot, and you’re probably too young — I’ve had this a lot with other people, they say, ‘Wow, Hector is picking up where that left off,’ and they’re absolutely right. I think it’s many things but most of all it’s… when I write or co-write it’s a different job. I have a different conviction and I have a different liberty to do what I do… What appealed to me is that they were asking me to write it with my co-writer, Tinker Lindsay, and to direct it, [so] it becomes a different animal so to speak and I love the idea that it was a fable. It was a Tin-Tin-esque psychological fable. It was very open armed in what it wanted to do and it was a film about happiness in a world that is a mess, and I thought it was timely.”
Pegg plays Hector, a therapist working in London who realizes that maybe he doesn’t know what happiness really is, so he sets off on a journey around the world. I asked Chelsom about Hector’s quest and why Hector would believe in the blanket concept of “happiness” in the first place. Chelsom told me, “I think the type of happiness that he was looking for was misguided and I think what he found was authentic. I think he’s portrayed in the beginning as someone who as all the trappings of happiness: the chic, beautiful girlfriend and the apartment, an apartment you can only have if you’re a childless professional couple earning that kind of money. But what it is, is a world that avoids unhappiness, if you like. It’s living in a bubble. It’s living a life that’s not likely to move forwards or change… I think that the happiness he finds by the end comes from being able to embrace all of life’s emotions. All the sadness and the happiness, the pain with the pleasure, the dark with the light. If you can do that then you truly will be happy and you get to a place where I would say hardship becomes richness, as it were.”
Finally, I spoke with Chelsom about the relationships that Hector has in the movie and the director sounded off on the concept of women in cinema, romantic comedies, in particular, by saying, “The thing that I wanted to do, I wanted Hector to get slapped a few times, literally and metaphorically. So you have the slap that he gets in China for being so stupid as to think that Ying Li was anything other than a hooker, and then the slap he gets in the dark… but then there is this massive metaphorical slap that Toni Collette as Agnes gives him… and I have to do that ahead of the audience who want to slap him!”
He continued, “You know, I sit through so many movies, and I’m not going to name them because I’m not supposed to, but there are romantic comedies that I see, and this is much, much more than a romantic comedy I hope, but, romantic comedies don’t have a third act because it’s usually about the guy who has got a frat boy mentality where they behave badly and then the s**t hits the fan at the end of act two and then you’ve got the independent sulking and then the epiphanic moments and she forgives him and the hit single and the titles, right? And it’s not enough. It’s just not enough…. And I think it’s something that we’re all responsible of, not just men, which is this form of nostalgia about believing that it was better then and that you idealize a woman. You’re actually doing her a great disservice and those slaps had to come to it before he could evolve, if that makes sense.”
Hector and the Pursuit of Happiness, starring Simon Pegg, Rosamund Pike, Toni Collette and Christopher Plummer, is in theaters now.