I really enjoy Simon Pegg. If you were to call me up and invite me over to watch the Cornetto trilogy right now I'd probably say yes because I'm ALWAYS down for SotD and Hot Fuzz. Run, Fatboy, Run is a really sweet and entertaining film that I like an awful lot. I even follow Simon Pegg on twitter (one of the maybe thirty people that's true of). So my dissatisfaction with Hector and the Search for Happiness doesn't have anything to do with an aversion to Pegg or to the delightful Rosamund Pike, and everything to do with the fact that I saw this movie last year, only then it had Ben Stiller in it and was much better made.
I feel like someone edited out a pretty hefty chunk of HatSfH. Something has gone missing that might make this a better movie, or at least would make it a more distinct movie. That something almost certainly has to do with the dog that keeps popping up, unexplained, throughout the film and probably has to do with the numerous sightings of a young Hector.
My dad (who took me to see the film with him this weekend) and I were discussing it and I said that it was like The Secret Life of Walter Mitty without the fantasy scenes while still trying to be a fantasy movie. Dad didn't think it was trying to be a fantasy but I disagree: we're treated to regular hallucinations and a degree of coincidence that is incredible. These things would make sense if we knew the movie was a fantasy, as would the bookending voice-over that is otherwise somewhat disconcerting.
I feel like we're missing the establishing shot of Hector's personality. Yes, we see (and are told) that he's dull and relies on routine and is stuck in a rut; but we're never given any insight into his photographic recollection of Tintin or his fixation on aviation both of which actually make sense if you just introduce the film with a childhood obsession with the comic and let that (instead of only two visual allusions) set the template for the film. Because, you see, if a viewer doesn't know anything about Tintin (which I essentially don't) the movie is jarring and a bit ridiculous. If, however, you know that Tintin is a story about the adventures of a boy and his dog investigating and having adventures, HatSfH starts to make sense as an homage.
I didn't hate this movie, it wasn't absolutely awful, it just wasn't very good. Simon Pegg was tolerable but toned down from the brash, clueless characters who have made up the bulk of his career. Toni Colette's four total minutes of screen time were acted pretty well but ultimately out of place. Rosamund Pike was charming and actually probably one of the better constructed characters. But none of it hung together well, and the story was stretched out over a frame of spiritual tourism that I find more than slightly repellent. Yes, China is a place. Tibet is a place. Africa is a giant, huge, massive, culturally diverse place and you might want to narrow down where in Africa you're talking about because South Africa and Chad are pretty goddamned different, y'know? These are all places where real people live and have their own conflicts at home and touching on human trafficking in China, or holy shit everything in the history of Tibet, or disease, kidnapping, and militarization in some generalized "Africa" as points on a white man's journey to find happiness without taking time to show Chinese or Tibetans or Africans dealing with these issues as characters rather than set-pieces is short-sighted. Hector might find more happiness if he took the time to actually learn about the people he meets instead of taking touristy snapshots and setting up a satellite dish at a monastery (where the head monk's character is known, according to the credits, as Old Monk). There is one notable exception to this pattern: on his flight from somewhere in Africa to LA he ends up assisting a terminally ill woman as she makes her way home to visit her sister; he questions her and gets close to her and most importantly LISTENS to her, and recognizes the vast difference between her life and his. I could have done with some more of that. I don't need abject misery at all times, but recognition that those little human dramas are, in fact, dramatic and that all of those people Hector met have their own story somewhere inside would be nice.