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‘Hector and the Search for Happiness’: An entertaining pursuit of joy

One of the enchanting things about watching “Hector and the Search for Happiness” is seeing Simon Pegg, an actor we’ve loved in movies like “Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz” and the “Mission Impossible” and “Star Trek” franchises, show us a different side of his acting abilities.

Trust me, with his character here, Pegg has created someone much more nuanced and layered that anything we’ve seen from him previously. What we are left with is an ultimately uplifting fable that makes an intelligent examination into the meaning of life.

This movie is really a journey on a number of levels. As Hector travels the globe in search of that elusive quality of happiness, he also is going on a personal journey of discovery on a deeper level.

Hector is a successful London psychiatrist who, on the surface, seemingly has it all. He has a financially secure practice, a beautiful and loving fiancée (Rosamund Pike) who keeps his home life in perfect balance and a group of smart and engaging friends.

Yet, underneath it all, Hector is perturbed — wondering why he feels empty inside and believes he has not fully experienced life to its fullest.

That fact is thrown in his face by one of his patients, who bluntly tells him he’s really just a shell of a man, only superficially dealing with his patients and not delivering the proper counseling he could give if he was a man of more substance.

Hector decides to take off on a fairly unplanned journey to discover, he hopes, the essence of what makes one truly happy and fulfilled.

Related: Simon Pegg goes to his happy places

There are so many clever aspects to this story, based on a French novel by Francois Lelord. Hilarious scenes showcase Pegg’s gift for physical comedy as he encounters Stellan Skarsgard, playing an uptight, rich and pleasure-seeking banker on his first flight.

Along the way, we are visually treated to cartoons and scribblings from the journal Hector keeps — put up on the screen — that document his musings on the search for true happiness. Among my favorites are his observations that “Avoiding unhappiness is not the road to happiness,” and “Happiness is not a destination, but a state of being.”

I love the way director Peter Chelsom and his co-writers, Maria von Heland and Tinker Lindsay, guide a tale that veers back and forth from some over-the-top funny moments to ones that are poignant, sad and sometimes downright frightening — as when Hector is kidnapped and imprisoned by a gang of thugs in South Africa.

Our reluctant hero makes his way from Shanghai to Tibet (and a spiritual encounter with a group of monks) to Africa, where he connects with an old school chum — and learns that doctor to the indigent is, in fact, gay.

Along the way, Hector communicates with his fiancée Clara back in London via Skype. Those conversations are both touching and, at times, disingenuous, given Hector frequently doesn’t share all of his adventures with Clara — especially the news he had a one-night stand with a gorgeous call girl in Shanghai.

Ultimately, Hector ends up in Los Angeles, where he nervously meets with the woman who was his first true love, played by Toni Collette.

In many ways that’s the perfect coda to this whole journey of Hector’s — and leads him to realize what finally is important to making one really happy: “Being loved for who you are.” And “listening is loving.”

This film is a winner. It will not only entertain you, but also make you think about what it takes to bring happiness into your own life.

[s3r star=3.5/4]

Relativity presents a film directed by Peter Chelsom and written by Chelsom, Maria von Heland and Tinker Lindsay, based on the novel “Le Voyage d’Hector ou La Recherche de Bonheur” by Francois LeLord. Running time: 114 minutes. Rated R (for language and some brief nudity). Opens Friday at local theaters.