I posted on Twitter prior to watching this the other night that I was hoping for some laughs. If I’m honest, I hadn’t so much as even looked at the synopsis, so really had no idea what I was letting myself in for. I knew Simon Pegg was in it (so assumed there would be at least a couple of giggles). I knew Rosamund Pike was in it too, so there was my middle-aged-furtive-Dad-factor covered. Finally, knowing Toni Collette also appeared meant that the film was replete with the requisite indie chic. So given this respectable cinematic weaponry, why wouldn’t I give it a go, regardless of my complete ignorance? Given my current circumstances, a guide to finding happiness wouldn’t have gone amiss, frankly.
If you’re like me and came into this slightly clueless, then by the time you’re half an hour in, you will be thinking the same thing as I was. “It’s a bit Walter Mitty-ish, isn’t it?”
And you’d be right on the money. Replace Ben Stiller with Simon Pegg and it’s almost the same story, in fact, just with different names. The ladies got Julia Roberts mucking about in a foreign land in Eat Pray Love and now we fellas get two globetrotting movies about finding yourself when you’re reaching that time in your life when you possibly should have worked all of this stuff out already, mid-life crisis, notwithstanding.
As such, Hector is not exactly original but if anything, he is more likeable than the aforementioned Mr Mitty. Remarking at the time that Ben Stiller didn’t really give us the joy and wonder of a rediscovered and/or uncovered human being that was lurking beneath what he hated about himself quite as fully as we would have liked, Pegg pulls this off noticeably better, and what’s more, the writing here is often markedly improved upon Stiller’s own offering of last year.
We are introduced to Hector as a somewhat jaded human being, a psychiatrist that is having difficulty relating to his patients. After one appointment, this slowly debilitating feeling comes over him, that he is lacking something, the real him, in essence. The reason for this is what he believes is a lack of happiness in his life. Living with his girlfriend of some standing (Pike), who lovingly and domestically bullies him to within an inch of his life, making his breakfasts, fixing his ties, reminding him when he leaves behind his keys etc, he feels that the only way to break out of this rut he has found himself in is to go and find the meaning for happiness for himself, which involves taking a trip around the world, visiting China, Africa and Los Angeles.
On his voyage of self-discovery, he will meet old friends and new ones, not to mention some formidable foes. As his girlfriend says before he leaves, if he is going to do it, then he should do it totally. Unsurprisingly, he get much more than bargained for. This well-intentioned, quiet man will indeed grow, whether he likes it or not. Thankfully, his departure is a benefit not only to Hector, but also his consistently grinning audience.
As mentioned, the writing is of above average quality and Pegg too extends himself maybe beyond what the casual observer might immediately expect, running a full gamut of emotions very convincingly indeed. You only have to look at some of the scenes in Africa, for example to fully appreciate just what a range he has. Pike’s paranoid girlfriend is lovable but bordering on the comic at times, which stretches credibility a touch too much to come off as realistic, but both Skaarsgard and Collette are suitable foils for the time and place that Hector meets them
In all, this is a much more satisfying travelogue than Stiller’s ‘Mitty’ effort, because by the end, you are significantly more convinced that Hector has actually learned something about himself and has become a better person for the experience. Not only that, but the performance from Pegg is so enjoyable that you feel on occasion that you have been on the trip alongside him, which gives the viewer a certain amount of personal satisfaction as well.
Genuinely moving at times, with a great lead performance, nice cinematography and accomplished scripting makes this a pleasing find. Personally, I loved it. I needed it too.