The Pursuit of Happyness
The Pursuit of
Happyness is completely predictable. That
doesn't change the fact that it tells one hell of a story. It is a
film which shows the best and worst of the American dream. It shows
the importance of faith, hard work and love of family. This
is a movie that is going to impart important life lessons — including
correcting (at least three or four times) the cutesy misspelling of the word
"happiness" in the title.
All of which could be
unbearable if treated with a heavy hand. While the story here
certainly has its heavy moments, the film is light on its feet, imparting
its pearls of wisdom with a warm smile rather than a steely stare. To
paraphrase the old musical, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.
It is "based on a true
story," but it's one that feels much more real than most flicks that carry
that claim. Even if the movie has been slightly "Hollywood-ized" it is
not usually noticeably unrealistic or clichéd. We know how the movie
will end simply because if it did not end that way there would have been no
reason to make the movie.
Will Smith plays Chris
Gardner, a self-made millionaire who made a fortune as a stockbroker.
Of course, this is the destination, not the story we are shown. The
movie title is The Pursuit of Happyness, not The Enjoyment of
Happyness, after all. Here we learn how Gardner became rich
and see the hardships that he had to survive to get to where he is.
Gardner was a young
entrepreneur who stakes his small savings to sell bone density scanners — a
medical device which was useful, but so expensive that it became looked upon
as a luxury by most of the medical professionals he tried to sell.
Quickly running out of money to feed his family, he stumbles on the idea of
becoming a stockbroker.
Gardner keeps going in to
talk to an exec at Smith-Barney, looking for a job. He proves his
worth to the exec in both a good way (his complete determination to be seen
for an interview) and a more whimsical way (by proving that he can figure
out a Rubik's Cube in less than a half-hour. Is it me, but is this 80s
toy suddenly popping up all over the place again?)
However, once he gets the
job he finds out it is an unpaid internship — so he has to spend six months
taking care of himself and his son (his wife takes off midway through the
story) with almost no income. Therefore he must do whatever is
necessary to survive, including living in homeless shelters (and
occasionally in train station bathrooms.) All the time, he must appear
reliable to his bosses, affluent to his customers and he must make sure that
his son never realizes how desperate their condition is.
Smith is an extremely good
actor who almost exclusively makes films not nearly worthy of him — let's
see... Independence Day, Men in Black 2, I Robot, Bad Boys, Jersey Girl
(in fairness, only a cameo), Wild Wild West... do I really need
to go on? Occasionally, though, Smith gets a role in which he can
really stretch his acting muscles. He hits it out of the park here.
He deserves at the very least an Oscar nomination.
This is aided somewhat by
the natural rapport that Chris has with his young son — played with
abundant charm and very little cutesy self-consciousness by Smith's own son,
Jaden Christopher Syre Smith.
His wife — played by a
badly utilized Thandie Newton — is the only part of the movie that seems
obviously changed for dramatic effect. She is selfish, angry, bitchy,
unsupportive and gives up her son way too quickly and willingly.
Like I said, even if we
don't know the true character that the film is discussing (I didn't), we
certainly know where the film is taking us. However, the story is so
compelling, well-told and mostly flawlessly acted that this inevitable
climax is more powerful than you would expect. (1/07)
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Posted: January 9, 2007.