Review: Simon Pegg gets raw and real in 'Hector and the Search for Happiness'

Review: Simon Pegg gets raw and real in 'Hector and the Search for Happiness'

Not a mean moment in it

There is not a cynical or mean-spirited moment in Peter Chelsom's new film "Hector and the Search For Happiness," and the film's observations about life are in some ways so direct, so fundamental, that it would be easy to shrug it off and laugh at its sincerity.

Happiness is a subject I've been thinking about quite a bit this year. At 44, I find it elusive, temporary. I've upended my life this year, moving out of my house, negotiating a divorce, building a new life to share with my kids, and even exploring the notion of new love, and all of it has been life-altering and shattering and scary and exhilarating, and above all else, necessary. Completely and totally necessary.

When I was a young man, I saw happiness as something that landed on you, something that was simply a by-product of living life. I took happiness for granted, and I am well aware now as an older man that happiness is something you have to actively work towards, that you cannot expect it to simply land on you. I have had my fair share of luck over the years, moments of joy that were simply delivered to me, but for the most part, I've had to struggle for the happiness I've had, and I have learned to cherish it when it happens.

That process is different for everyone, and while it seems like a vaguely sappy idea in the broad description, Peter Chelsom is a guy who has managed to avoid sap with a certain amount of grace over the years. His films "Hear My Song," "Funny Bones," and "The Mighty" are all movies that have a great deal of heart, but that never give in to the easy or the cheap move. Here, he's working from a novel by Francois Lelord, and with his co-writers Maria von Heland and Tinker Lindsay, he's done his best to apply a light touch to the story of Hector (Simon Pegg), a psychiatrist who has a tidy, orderly life and who one day realizes that he's not qualified to talk to his patients about happiness because he's not entirely sure that he's happy himself.

This comes as rather unpleasant news for his girlfriend Clara (Rosamund Pike), who works hard to make Hector's life as orderly as possible, and when he tells her that he's taking an open-ended trip around the world in search of whatever it is he's missing, she puts on a smiling face, but it guts her. Hector sets off having planned for anything, and at first I expected something very broadly comic. From the start, though, the film steers towards something more emotional, and it starts to build a respectable head of steam. The lessons that Hector picks up as he meets various people are genuine, some of them very small, some of them more profound, and there were several of them that I made note of for myself.

The film is gorgeously photographed by Kolja Brandt, and there are certain sequences that serve as a reminder that Chelsom may have done his time in the Hollywood trenches with movies like "Shall We Dance?" and "The Hannah Montana Movie," but at heart, he's got a gentle, poetic eye. Simon Pegg seems to have really taken the material to heart, and I think it's kind of a break-through performance for him. As good as he's been in other films, I don't think I've ever seen him play something this raw or real, and there are several moments where he just kind of breaks. Hector isn't some perfect role model, and he makes some ugly mistakes, which only makes him seem more human.

Similarly, I think Pike is very good here, and she's got the trickier role. Most of the time, when you see a movie like this and the girlfriend is introduced at the beginning of the film as someone who is very fastidious and organized, it's a set-up for that character to be treated as a villain, and I braced myself for what I consider a really unpleasant trope. Instead, Clara is treated with empathy, and her efforts to make a very clean and ordered life for Hector are treated as an act of love, not a suffocating prison. It made me like the movie more, and the way they treat Clara in the film is an indicator of how the film treats all of its characters.

There's a big move towards the end of the film that is a little too on-the-nose, but even as I rolled my eyes a bit at the idea, Pegg's performance sells it, and he basically has his Ebenezer Scrooge moment, all the pieces falling into place as he realizes what he wants and what he has. I found it moving and simple, and while it may mark me as a sentimentalist, "Hector" worked on me. I respect the way the film delivers its ideas, and I'm always happy to see Chelsom deliver something that is both sincere and successful.

"Hector and the Search For Happiness" may not unlock all of the secrets of the universe, but it does offer a welcome glimpse at how important the search is for all of us.

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'Ask Drew' tackles Toronto with answers about Anna Kendrick, Black Panther, and Roger Corman
Credit: Universal Pictures

'Ask Drew' tackles Toronto with answers about Anna Kendrick, Black Panther, and Roger Corman

Plus we premiere a new look and ask for your feedback

We're going to consider today an experiment in "Ask Drew," and the results, much like everything else about this show, depend on you.

We managed to schedule an "Ask Drew" to fall right between the Toronto Film Festival and my vacation, which I'm already enjoying in Austin, Texas, where I'm going to attend the tenth anniversary of Fantastic Fest and eat roughly twice my own weight in brisket.

One of the changes we're making to the show involves my appearance. I am aware that this is shot on video and then shown to actual people, but I am, like many writers, not as focused on the external as the internal. I've heard enough feedback, though, that I've decided to try to class it up just a wee bit. So I'm going to ask you… how do you feel about this week's episode?

The questions, of course, are good as always. You guys asked about diversity in upcoming Marvel movies, the new Anna Kendrick musical (which I am kicking myself for not seeing in Toronto), and we played one of the easiest rounds of Movie God so far. What I love about this show and the interaction we've been able to have so far is that I'm learning a lot about what's important to you, and that can only be a good thing. I think of this all as a dialogue, because if it's just a monologue, me shouting opinions into the void, then what's the point? I write what I write so it will be read and so we can use that as a springboard into a larger conversation, and "Ask Drew" has been a lovely way to help crystallize some of those talking points.

I'll be taping the next episode on Tuesday the 29th, so get your questions about Fantastic Fest or anything else you're interested in ready and send them to video@hitfix.com, and as always, thanks for playing along.

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'Hector' stars Simon Pegg and Rosamund Pike on how the English are scared of sincerity
Credit: HitFix

'Hector' stars Simon Pegg and Rosamund Pike on how the English are scared of sincerity

Plus we get into the way this film and 'The World's End' are entangled

There are a few people on a very short list who are a genuine pleasure to run into under any circumstances, and Simon Pegg is on that very short list for me.

We first met during the build-up to the American release of "Shaun Of The Dead," and at that point, Pegg and Nick Frost and Edgar Wright were cult stars thanks to "Spaced." As much as I adored "Shaun" straightaway, I had no idea if it was going to make a dent in American pop culture.

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Exclusive: A sneak peek behind the Bayhem in a clip from the 'Transformers' Blu-ray
Credit: Paramount Pictures

Exclusive: A sneak peek behind the Bayhem in a clip from the 'Transformers' Blu-ray

In one minute, you will see more explosions than a Boston fireworks display

When I ran my most recent Film Nerd 2.0, several of you e-mailed me to point out what seemed to be a glaring contradiction in things I'd published here.

"Why were you complaining about your kids watching the 'Transformers' movies? Don't you like those movies?"

It is safe to call my relationship to the movies complicated. I am not sure I would say I enjoy the third and the fourth films, but I am endlessly fascinated by them. The scale on which Michael Bay is working is so preposterous that it's easy to get numbed by it when you're watching the actual movies. As "Transformers: Age Of Extinction" prepares to hit home video, we've got a clip from some of the behind-the-scenes extras that serves as a reminder of just how much actual physical labor goes into creating those outsized images.

People tend to dismiss these movies based on all of the digital effects included in each one (among other reasons), but more of what is happening onscreen is practical than I sometimes remember. I am particularly impressed in this short one-minute clip by just how many cars they manage to drop from the sky. I'd like to think that's one guy's specialty, and right now, he is somewhere napping until Michael Bay needs him to launch a bus through the air again.

No matter what rating the movie actually carries, Bay's films all have an R-rated sheen to them. He can't help it. It's simply the prism through which he views things. Just the fact that it perpetually looks like everyone on his set is moments away from dying for real is enough to push them over the top.

By now, I suspect you know whether or not you're buying "Transformers: Age Of Extinction" on Blu-ray or DVD. Either way, starting your day with stuff blowing up is always a good choice. And because it's Bay, rest assured, the home-video release is a beast. Gigantic. Epic. This is a one-minute clip. There are over three hours of special features on the disc, which arrives in stores on September 30th.

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Review: 'Maze Runner' gives a strong young cast plenty of room to shine
Credit: 20th Century Fox

Review: 'Maze Runner' gives a strong young cast plenty of room to shine

HitFix
B
Readers
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Sure, it's familiar fare, but it's got the moves down cold

The rules of engagement have changed in the ongoing push-me/pull-you of tentpole filmmaking, especially when aiming at the oh-so-important young adult demographic. That is a very business-minded opening sentence for a review, but these days, when you're making a film like "The Maze Runner," it is a very business-minded endeavor. If you get one of these movies right, you buy yourself the room to make two or three or however many more. Casting is a huge part of that, as is the way you bait the hook for the larger franchise.

Wes Ball's background is in animation and effects, and he certainly has an eye for composition. Thankfully, he doesn't just lean on visual flash in his debut feature, the adaptation of the first of James Dashner's four books, and his skills allow him to build a convincing world around his appealing cast without losing them in it completely.

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Notes From Toshi Station: A sneak peek reaction to 'Star Wars Rebels: Spark Of Rebellion'
Credit: Disney XD/Lucasfilm Ltd.

Notes From Toshi Station: A sneak peek reaction to 'Star Wars Rebels: Spark Of Rebellion'

Who is better suited to judge the new show than an actively engaged fan?

To begin with, I'd like to announce that my nine-year-old son Toshi McWeeny has been appointed "Senior Junior 'Star Wars' Correspondent" for HitFix.

After all, he was the one who attended the "Phantom Menace 3D" press day with me and conducted all of the interviews, and one of the things that defined Film Nerd 2.0 was our series of "Star Wars" articles. At this point, Toshi is far more immersed in "Star Wars" than I am on a daily basis. He has books he reads, comics he looks at, and a constant stream of revisits of the different films and TV shows that are already part of the overall franchise. It is something that is an active part of his inner life and his ongoing play with his little brother. It is safe to say that there is not a day that goes by that "Star Wars" is not part of their conversation to some extent, so who better to have be our liaison to that galaxy far far away?

When I was at the Toronto Film Festival, there was a special event thrown by Disney on the Disney lot in Burbank where they screened the premiere for "Star Wars: Rebels," the new animated series that Disney XD is about to start airing. One of the weirdest nights I've had this year was the opening night of this year's Comic-Con, when we had our annual HitFix party and our sponsors for the evening were Lucasfilm for this particular show. It was a bizarre evening simply because it's not often I am one of the people throwing a party where there are Stormtroopers, Imperial Guards, and droids all milling about, and if seven-year-old me had tried to imagine a poolside party full of not only the characters but the people in charge of them, he would have failed utterly to imagine how much fun the reality could be.

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Review: Ethan Hawke goes numb at the controls of a deadly drone in 'Good Kill'
Credit: Voltage Pictures

Review: Ethan Hawke goes numb at the controls of a deadly drone in 'Good Kill'

HitFix
B
Readers
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It's sad just how timely this one is

Traveling back from the Toronto Film Festival meant spending a fair amount of time in airports, and in each of those airports, the same revolving barrage of news went by, including discussions of new drone missions over Syria.

It made it very unsettling as I had "Good Kill" still bouncing about inside me, one of the last movies I saw at the fest this year, and as timely a film as I could imagine seeing. Written and directed by Andrew Niccol, the film is a close-up character portrait of Tommy Egan, a former fighter jet pilot who has been relocated to a Las Vegas suburban neighborhood. Every day, he reports to a local base where he and his crew file into a small trailer and then spend their shift watching and occasionally killing people on the other side of the world.

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Liam Neeson on using his 'Taken' clout to get 'Walk Among The Tombstones' made
Credit: HitFix

Liam Neeson on using his 'Taken' clout to get 'Walk Among The Tombstones' made

We talk about his new twelve-step hero from Lawrence Block's popular book series

"Excalibur" was a formative theatrical experience for me. It was one of the first R-rated films I specifically decided I wanted to see in a theater. I'd seen other R-rated films before that, but always at random and because someone else decided I was going to see it. With "Excalibur," I was crazy to see it, and the film landed on me like a ton of bricks. Surreal, violent, beautiful, explicit, and for a mythology nut, seeing how the film dealt with each of the characters, each of the Arthurian archetypes, I was in love.

One of the guys who made an impression in the film was a young Liam Neeson, and for the rest of the '80s, he racked up a number of performances where, good film or bad, he made an impression. How could he not? No one else looked like him. Slightly over eight feet tall, possessed of an Irish brogue that could be poured like whiskey, he finally started to really move front and center in the second half of the decade. Like anyone trying to build a resume in the '80s, he made a memorable appearance on "Miami Vice," then played major roles in "Suspect," "The Good Mother," the underrated "A Prayer For The Dying," the Dirty Harry film "The Dead Pool," and even the odd Neil Jordan romantic-comedy-wtih-ghosts film "High Spirits."

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Review: Smart kids once again save Winter in sweet 'Dolphin Tale 2'
Credit: Warner Bros.

Review: Smart kids once again save Winter in sweet 'Dolphin Tale 2'

HitFix
B
Readers
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It's more of the same, but that's not a bad thing

If I were the one running Warner Bros, I must admit it would not have occurred to me to pursue the idea of a sequel to 2011's "Dolphin Tale".

After all, the first film was the story of how a dolphin lost her tail in a crab trap, only to find her way to an aquarium and animal rescue facility in St. Petersburg, Florida, where she was eventually fitted with an innovative prosthetic. Story told, right? The sequel answers that question with a resounding no, and in doing so, it serves to highlight just how difficult it is for people, even with the best of intentions, to keep these animals in captivity and in good health at the same time. In its own small way, the film is part of the same conversation as "Blackfish," making the case that it's important work, but under carefully controlled circumstances only, and never at the expense of the animal.

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Review: John Cusack and Paul Dano give voice to Brian Wilson's broken soul in 'Love & Mercy'
Credit: A24

Review: John Cusack and Paul Dano give voice to Brian Wilson's broken soul in 'Love & Mercy'

HitFix
A
Readers
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This is how you get a music biopic right

TORONTO - One of the most original interpretations of the music biopic in recent years was 2007's "I'm Not There," in which no less than six actors played different versions of Bob Dylan. Directed by Todd Haynes, the film used the different actors as a way of getting to the essential truth about an artist renowned for reinventing himself.

The co-writer of that film was Oren Moverman, and now he's the co-writer of "Love & Mercy," a beautiful new movie that once again refuses to fall into the formula that hobbles so many biopics of any kind. The cliches of the genre are so pervasive that Jake Kasdan's "Walk Hard" essentially destroyed the entire form for me. Ultimately, I think the best way to approach any biopic is to pick a moment that you feel illuminates the subject in a way that allows you to narrow in, focus, and tell a story that isn't just a greatest hits condensed into two hours.

In the case of "Love & Mercy," they picked two.

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