The Pursuit of Happyness (2006) Review

The Pursuit of Happyness (2006) Review 2
The Pursuit of Happyness (2006) Review
The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
Director(s): Gabriele Muccino
Actor(s): Will Smith, Thandiwe Newton, Jaden Smith
Running Time: 117 min
CGM Editors Choice
| December 15, 2006

A miraculous thing happens in The Pursuit of Happyness and I don’t just mean the transformation of a down on his luck salesman with a dream into a man living the dream. The trailer portrayed a movie that is as schmaltzy as the day is long, but that’s not the movie I saw unspool on the big screen. This was a movie about life; about how even the best of men can try and take a step forward only to fall flat on their face and all they can do is pick themselves up and keep moving. And this is also a movie about those rare instances where nice guys finish first.

The always likable Will Smith plays Chris Gardner, a would-be salesman because he would be if he could sell anything. He once mistakenly invested his and wife Linda’s (Thandie Newton) life-savings into a business opportunity to sell bone density scanners, which has sputtered along for years, never becoming the cash cow he envisioned. Chris sees another opportunity to take a few steps up the socio-economic ladder by applying for an internship at the Dean Witter stock brokerage firm. When Linda hears that Chris is planning on going from salesman to intern, she loses what’s little left of her patience and leaves Chris to go to New York; she does however agree to leave their 5 year old son Christopher (Jaden Smith) in his father’s care.

This would be the first of many downers for Chris in his journey to fiscal solvency against the backdrop of the 80s and the beginning of “Reaganomics”. He’s evicted from his apartment, loses his car, is slapped for payment on all his overdue parking tickets, and spends the night in jail all before his big interview at Dean Witter to which he’s forced to show up to looking like a bum. Fortunately for Chris, he charms his way into getting one of the internships, the non-paying internships. Regardless of the odds though, and regardless of the hardships, Chris continues to persevere in the hopes that when six months is through, he’s the one in twenty that gets a future at the firm.

The Pursuit Of Happyness (2006) Review

There were a number of surprises about this movie for me; first and foremost is the fact that the filmmakers, including Italian director Gabriele Muccino, overcome the potential Lifetime Network nature of the material. There’s no dwelling on the calamity and woe but that’s not to say that there’s any glossing over the harsher times for the Chrises. In fact, there’s a great deal of humour in Pursuit, not in the form of jokes or pratfalls, but just in the general humour of life; a kind of, “Isn’t that funny” sort of sentiment. While Chris’s fate is in no real doubt, I personally found some parts hard to watch as you see a man just struggle and fight for all he’s worth only to see some act of fate pull the rug out from under him just as soon as he gets a little bit ahead.

Will Smith is well deserving of his Golden Globe nomination for his performance as Chris, serving as another example of how actors normally not renown for their dramatic chops can knock one out of the park when given a fair chance. Fans may have a difficult time recognizing their hero, for this is not exactly Big Willie Styles coming out to play. There’s a scene where a suddenly homeless Chris holds up in a subway bathroom and breaks down with all the terrible emotion as his son sleeps on the floor next to him. You feel that pain, you feel the weight of that hardship and the momentary lack of hope and you see it all right there in his face. Smith’s real life son Jaden is also superb, a great child actor that is really flawless in hitting his marks.

The Pursuit of Happyness won’t be to everyone’s taste, particularly spell-checkers and copy-editors. But if you like movies that intentionally tug at the heartstrings for all they’re worth, then this will definitely appeal.

Final Thoughts
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