Simon Pegg plays a psychiatrist who just burns out. One day he’s fine and the next he’s lost patience with his patients’ whining, with his hum-drum relationship, with his life in general and cannot shake that faux-naive question right there in the title of the movie: is he happy?
So off he goes, without really doing much self-examination, to “find” happiness, because maybe it’s hiding in China! He’s going to Eat, Pray, Love himself around the world (or, you know, pit stops in Africa and America, which is pretty much the world, right?) having crazy adventures and learning lessons (and just in case you missed those lessons, which are always stated clearly, they’re also written down AND illustrated! Stick, meet head).
I sort of liked the premise of this movie, because, spoiler alert: most of the Assholes (the exception being Sean) are also therapists, and what mental health professional doesn’t wonder about some magic formula for happiness? But none of us have ever gone on a worldwide treasure hunt for it, and I feel I could have saved Hector a lot of frequent flyer miles if only I could tell him: happiness is a choice you make right here at home.
But anyway. Hector’s not really trying to save his patients from unhappiness, he’s trying to heal himself (he just may not know it). So he must encounter lots of heavy-handed obstacles and predictably overcome them (with banners of terrible self-help platitudes earned like badges), and then mawkishly relive them just to drive the point home.
The movie is well-cast: Simon Pegg is affable, Rosamund Pike is fairly ill-used, the wonderful Toni Collette pops up all too briefly, Christopher Plummer provides some laughs late in the film, and Stellan Skarsgard, whom I love without ever understanding why, provides a bit of a counter-balance to Hector’s gung-ho naiveté. But none of these people can save the movie from itself, or from its patronizing tone.