Movie Review-The Pursuit of Happyness

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Written by Jeremy Hatt

Pursuit of Happyness has been receiving a lot of praise from critics, audiences, and now by the Motion Picture Academy with a nomination for Will Smith in the Best Actor category. Although I recognize that the film is praiseworthy for its performances and inspirational story, I didn’t feel that it rose to the greatness some have claimed. Perhaps I’m just too cynical.

The movie tells the true story of Chris Gardner, a salesperson whose product is a bone density scanner, which isn’t exactly in high demand. The bulky contraption is being replaced by better technology and Chris (Will Smith) struggles to get by with his wife, Linda, (Thandie Newton) and young son, Christopher (Jaden Smith). Linda is so frustrated with their financial issues and relationship that she leaves Chris to live with family elsewhere. In desperation, the mathematically inclined father decides to apply for an internship to become a stockbroker at a lucrative company.

The hardships that Chris faces are many - perhaps too many. I’m sure the real Chris Gardner went through a series of unfortunate events and bitterly ironic coincidences, but in a film setting, it feels too contrived. For example, one of his bone density scanners gets stolen not just once but twice by two separate people right at the moment of the most need. He also gets stopped by one of his potential employers (if he gets hired for the internship) and is asked to park the man’s car just as he is leaving to make a sale for the company. After a series of implausible bad coincidences that leads to a missed meeting, he gets back to the parked car with slumped shoulders and there is a parking ticket stuck in the windshield. Talk about throwing salt on the wound.

The film is also difficult to sit through at times; however, this is not necessarily a complaint, depending on your perspective. Chris and his son encounter every possible hardship they can run into including losing their apartment, spending nights in homeless shelters and subway washrooms, and Chris having to stay a night in jail. All the while, the daycare his son is in leaves the children to watch television shows to pass the time rather than stimulating education. Bad situation after bad situation weighed heavily on me during the film.

However, looking past some clichéd moments and the frustratingly ill-fated mishaps and difficulties, Will Smith and Jaden Smith, his real-life son, play a strong father-son team that really brighten the story. Smith deserves his nomination for Best Actor in a profoundly earnest and moving turn from his earlier action flicks. Jaden Smith is hilarious as the son and has a few jokes in the script that would be banal if said by an adult, but hilarious when quipped by a kid who relays them as if he were Bob Hope.

A pivotal scene near the end of the movie plays out pitch-perfectly and is the single best moment in the film. Smith could have acted out this scene in many different ways but he chooses an unconventional route that is a real tear-jerker. A compliment to this film is that I was left emotionally drained after everything Chris is put through.

There are also some truly emotional, heartfelt moments between the Smiths. Take for example, a scene in which Chris describes to his son what it means to be independent and fight for what you desire most.

“You got a dream, you gotta protect it. People can’t do something themselves, they wanna tell you that you can’t do it. You want something? Go get it. Period.”

It’s blunt, straightforward, and it’s a message that a lot of us forget all too often in our pursuit of happiness.

Happiness for Chris is simple: providing a stable life for his son and his son’s sons. It’s the pursuit that proves most difficult, but once happiness is achieved, the obstacles we face just make it taste that much better.

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