TIFF 2014 Review: Hector and the Search for Happiness

 


The patron saint of smashing entitlement into smithereens, Louis C.K., has a great bit about being caucasian. The gist of it is that he can hop in a time machine and go back in history, and there will be a waiter attentively greeting him, “Your table is right over here, sir.”  With all the think pieces being written about white privilege in the wake of Ferguson, Missouri, the timing is exquisitely poor for Peter Chelsom’s Hector and the Search for Happiness (hereafter Hector) the story of a wealthy white working professional who gets to travel the world, often seated first class, to find out why he should stay with his girlfriend and procreate — if this smarter, more satirical flick, the words Consume and Obey would accompany the latter.

Hector manages to squeeze almost every platitude on happiness onto the screen, directly from his tourist-diary for the audience to absorb as if it were some kind of nouveaux Celestine Prophecy. The filmmaking follows the editing rhythms of a second-rate Edgar Wright, indeed, it’s leading man is Simon Pegg, playing a rather inattentive psychiatrist who has a lot more love for Tin Tin than he does for Freud or Jung. Like Pegg’s wardrobe and sock collection contained herein, this film is too neat and too pat for its own good.  

Blowing off his gorgeous and funny girlfriend (Rosamund Pike) to travel from downtown London to Shanghai where Hector goes happily whoring with a rich businessman (Stellan Skarsgard) he met on a plane.  He falls in love with a pretty Chinese call-girl before discovering what is obvious to anyone who has ever seen a film before. And then he chalks the experience up to “Ignorance is Bliss.” Ah, white privilege. He travels to possibly the same Tibetan monastery from 1984s The Razor’s Edge (a movie now looking a whole lot better by comparison) and installs a satellite dish, a la those IBM commercials made a decade ago so he can Skype back to England.

Then it is off to Africa and I mean Africa as a country, not a continent, where every evening is picturesque Acacia Trees against the savannah sunset with free-range lions and foreign aid workers and violent men with Kalashnikovs. His foolish white ass is saved, of all things, by a golden pen, and of course, drug dealer with a heart of gold, Jean Reno.

Wrapping up in Los Angeles, Hector tracks down his old romantic flame (Toni Colette) for advice. She is now quite domestic and grounded but also professionally involved in the psychiatry-research community. They visit Christopher Plummer’s high tech happiness laboratory as a site to deliver the most hackneyed and obligatory of climaxes; complete with CGI colour coding and Plummer fist-pumping the results. 

Hector is earnest to a fault, espousing the most painfully conservative values under a liberal and saccharine “listening is loving” and cultural tourism attitude. All of this, admittedly covers up solid enough craft, careful setting up plot points and pay-offs, and a loving attention to Hergé kind of detail. It would make a fine double bill with J.A. Bayona’s The Impossible

It is guilty of squandering solid performances and an concept ripe for comedy if only carried off with a little more irreverence and guts; that is to say, not so damn eager to increase the happiness quotient of the universe at the expense of everything else for the sake of pleasing it’s all too obvious middle class white demo. It makes me pine for a classic Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels, a fine example from the 1940s (a decade of white privilege if there ever was one) that manages to have its cake and eat it too.

Never content to ask a question with a question, Hector and The Search For Happiness is the type of film that spells out, literally on screen in text-overlays, exactly what you want to hear. I would say that it exists somewhere in the recent cinematic landscape between Eat, Pray Love and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, that is if I had gotten past their Hallmark greeting card trailers. We all have our biases. This film will confirm yours and you are, as Louis C.K. says, entitled to it with the requisite consequences down the road.

Cinecast Episode 347 – Two Princes

Part II is here. We talked Vol I of Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac last week, we finish that conversation this week in all its glorious whippiness and lack of Udo Kier. Then 1984 is continued with Prince and The Revolution, not Lake Minnetonka, Clarence Williams III, First Avenue and laughing in the Purple Rain. But we’re still on a weekend hangover from the Frabramble wedding party so we keep it short with no Watch List. But next week will get crazy with Game of Thrones starting up and also Andrew hitting M-SPIFF.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!

 


 

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Full show notes are under the seats…
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Review: Nymphomaniac Volumes I and II

Nymphomaniac Volume I & II
At first glance, much of Lars von Trier’s work seems disrespectful, antagonistic, self-aggrandizing, and unapologetically brutish. His latest piece,
Nymphomaniac, the nearly 5-hour-long story of a self-professed nymphomaniac, certainly felt this way prior to its release. Proclaiming the film to be hardcore pornography, calling out the public and media alike for their prudish reception of his concept, and generally baiting the entire cinematic community, it’s been a long road to Nymphomaniac’s two lengthy volumes. Going into the film, you anticipate relentless sex and little else. You almost resign yourself to no plot or point other than to force the public to get over its preconceived notions of sex. What we’re left with, however, is far more compelling.

What lies beneath the surface of Nymphomaniac is an accessible and seemingly honest portrayal of the type of person often perceived as little more than a deviant in society’s eyes. Here we find Trier’s two voices – his learned, rational self debating the nature of humanity and humility with his angry, impassioned, animalistic side – facing off in a kind of battle to save the soul of the so-called afflicted Joe. We’re shown the portrait of a woman who played carelessly with lust as a young adult, blossomed into a woman, and found herself taking ownership of her compulsion. In spite of the overall positive intention of Volume I, and the eye-opening, soul-crushing Volume II, the final message fits into Trier’s canon as antagonistic … with a point.

The story begins with Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) being found, beaten and filthy in a dark alley, by a man named Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård). Urging the wounded woman to call the police, he’s left with no choice but to nurse her himself when she refuses. Carrying her back to his lonely apartment, he changes her clothes, and lays her in bed. Once awake and alert, Joe rambles on about being a horrible person, attempting to convince the kindly Seligman that he should have left her there. Eventually, Joe finds herself defending her self-proclaimed villainy, and begins to tell her life’s story in an attempt to convince her saviour. Would you like to know more…?