REVIEW: The Pursuit of Happyness [2006]

“He must have had on some really nice pants”

The genre of uplifting, against all odds type stories is probably the second most common behind the against all odds sports tale. Every once in awhile one will come out that just blows the other away, however, they are mostly all just carbon copies of each other. These types of films have a built in formula of acts to keep the audience emotionally attached. You see the happiness taken away, you see the trials and tribulations and failures along the way, and finally you see your protagonist redeemed. I hoped that The Pursuit of Happyness would strive above these preconceptions and become something more than its type. Unfortunately, besides the heartbreaking performances from Will and Jaden Smith, this film really just recycles all the genres’ attributes and fills in the blanks with the details of Chris Gardner’s life.

Gardner is a very intelligent and ambitious man. He saw an opportunity to make some money for his wife and son, but didn’t see the results of his investing in machines, that although state-of-the-art, were luxuries his clientele didn’t see benefits in paying for. With all his money tied up in his machines, he never had the chance to find a career, as he needed to sell his products just to recoup the finances he used to pay for them. Finally, a job opportunity arises that would lend itself greatly to his high aptitude of mathematics. He sees a chance to make a living for his family so that they will no longer have to live paycheck to paycheck, but the decision itself would throw his world upside down. His wife can’t handle taking another chance at something that may ultimately fail and leaves him, Gardner finds his internship is full-time without pay, the IRS is after them for back taxes, and they find themselves on the street without anyplace to live. The one thing that could turn his life around comes at the price of having just a one in twenty chance at getting out of the worst squalor his life has seen. Homeless and broke, he has no other choice.

I don’t know if it was the knowledge of this type of movie, that everything will work out, or the fact that our hero does many unsavory things along his journey, but I just couldn’t quite be taken over by the story. You see his life falling apart all around him, but you know that everything will turn out right; you just wait and see to find out how. Sure that journey is a good ride and interesting to watch, it just doesn’t resonate as much when you know that no matter how bad it gets, it won’t get THAT bad. Unfortunately that fact is inherent in all these types of films, and you need something else to invest in. With Happyness, that something else are the wonderful performances. All the supporting players are fantastic, especially small roles like that of Kevin West’s time machine obsessed crazy, and Thandie Newton’s heartbreaking wife. Newton is just made up of pain and sorrow throughout, trying her best to believe in her husband. The stress is too much, and she is wonderful at showing every moment of hardship. Although you don’t like the way she leaves, you have to almost understand her reasons. Also, young Jaden Smith is a natural on screen. Sure that could be a result of being so young and just reacting rather than acting, (especially having his real father to play off of), but either way it is a brilliant job. His innocence and lack of complete knowledge in what is happening to his life is some emotionally wrenching stuff.

The real leader of the film, though, is Will Smith. He has been a fantastic actor for many years, and it is a joy to see him finally play a role, which allows him to show his skill. Sure we all love the action/comedy fare, but not since Ali have we seen what a professional he is. This is probably the best performance of his career thus far that I’ve seen and he deserves all the accolades being thrown his way. No matter how well he did though, I believe the character itself leaves a bit to be desired. In order to get where he is, he does a lot of lying, some stealing, (I mean he stays at these places until they throw him out; they will never see any money for the months they trusted him in), and some harsh reacting to characters he interacts with. For every moment Gardner really excels and shows the natural charisma and skill, which will land him a career, there is an instance that you look and feel he could have handled it much differently and better. There is also a lot of luck involved along the way, as every machine he loses miraculously is found, to the point he can run after someone and take it back to stay afloat financially for one more day. I wonder how much of the contrived moments necessary to keep him alive actually happened to the real Chris Gardner and how many were created for the story to advance cinematically.

The Pursuit of Happyness 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

[1] Christopher (Jaden Smith) and Christopher Gardner (Will Smith) in Sony Pictures Entertainment and Columbia Pictures’ The Pursuit of Happyness – 2006
[2] Linda (Thandie Newton) in Gabriele Muccino drama The Pursuit of Happyness – 2006


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