Hector and the Search for Happiness is thoughtful and funny

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      Starring Simon Pegg. Rating unavailable. 

      Writer-director Peter Chelsom is the British filmmaker behind such quirky gems as The Mighty, Funny Bones, and Hear My Song. After trying his hand at a couple of mainstream Hollywood movies, he seemed to lose his way. (Anyone remember the disastrous Town & Country or, worse yet, Hannah Montana: The Movie?) Not to worry. With Hector and the Search for Happiness, Chelsom is back to his inspiring best.

      The movie tells the story of Hector (Simon Pegg), an English psychiatrist who seems to have every aspect of his life meticulously in order. His loving girlfriend, Clara (Rosamund Pike), is devoted to him and his patients value his advice. But Hector is getting restless. His job feels stale and he has unresolved feelings for Agnes, an old flame who lives in California (Toni Collette). He decides to go on a globetrotting quest to determine what makes people happy, hoping, in turn, that he can find the secret to a more fulfilling life.

      Hector’s journey takes him to China, Africa, and Los Angeles. Along the way, he encounters a variety of people, including a self-absorbed businessman (Stellan Skarsgård), a bad-tempered drug trafficker (Jean Reno), and a terminal cancer patient (Chantel Herman). His trip is capped off with a visit to Agnes, who stirs up some old feelings.

      A lot could go wrong here. In the hands of a less gifted filmmaker, the story could easily degenerate into the macho version of Eat Pray Love. But Chelsom, who also cowrote the screenplay, loads the story with charm, whimsy, and a welcome touch of self-deprecating humour.

      The movie was shot locally, and the cast includes some well-known Vancouver actors. Everyone involved performs at a high level, but it’s Simon Pegg who carries the film. Despite Hector’s flaws, he endows the character with an enormous amount of empathy and appeal.

      There are one or two missteps. The overwrought climax—involving Christopher Plummer as a researcher investigating the chemical effect of various emotions on the brain—seems completely unnecessary.

      That said, this is a movie that’s as thoughtful as it is funny. And how often does that come your way?