The Pursuit of Happyness Finds its Heart
by Alex Billington
December 15, 2006
Will Smith and his son Jaden team up in The Pursuit of Happyness to tell the grueling true story of one man's struggles in San Francisco to beat all odds. They end up living on the streets getting by at the very lowest level, trying only to get the elder Smith's character a job so the two can continue living life to the fullest. One-quarter comedy, and three-quarters drama, it's a beautiful tale of compassion, but a bit rough in spots, resulting in a film that could've been much better.
Chris Gardner (Will Smith) is one of the kindest, most caring, and most considerate persons alive, succeeding amazingly in mathematics in high school but never pursuing a higher education. Living with his wife Linda (Thandie Newton) and his son Chistopher (Smith's real-life son Jaden Christopher Syre Smith), Chris struggles to make enough money to raise his family by selling bone density scanners out of his home. He at first believes the scanners to be in demand, but they prove hard to get rid of, and every day he keeps coming home without earning a single dollar. He loses everything but custody of his son when Linda, frustrated at her husband's failings, decides to leave him. Through endless persistence he gains the opportunity to join the internship program at Dean Witter, a major stock broker in San Francisco, but realizes too late that unless at the end of the six months he is the one person they hire, the internship won't earn him any money. Living on the streets with his son while in the internship program, the single father's pursuit of happiness keeps him struggling to succeed every day.
I had high expectations for this film, expecting a tear-jerking life-changing heart-thumping drama, but it's no Babel and it's no Fountain. There's nothing really wrong with the production, it's just that the edges on the script translation from the real-life story are still a bit too rough. It has heartwarming yet playful moments between Smith and his son and some uplifting scenes that will make you cheer. The central message, that persistence and passion guarantee success, is honest and clear. The problem is that The Pursuit of Happyness doesn't delve thoroughly enough into Chris's struggles and his story.
Smith and his son have an obvious natural chemistry that plays wonderfully well. However, beyond these two there are barely any other actors even in the movie. There are few supporting characters besides Chris's wife Linda and the managers at Dean Witter, and those characters are given little screen time, leaving Smith and his son to make up the complete essence of the movie. Director Gabriele Muccino, who directed the original L'Ultimo Baccio in 2001 (remade this year as The Last Kiss), delightfully captures the nuances of Will and Jaden's father-son relationship in a dramatic context.
I've shaped my opinions of the movies I've seen in the last few weeks on their endings. Will the ending live up to the rest of the film? Will it deliver its message and leave a wonderful smile on your face as you leave the theater? A weak ending is not acceptable for an otherwise meaty and enjoyable story, and this is where Pursuit falls short. It tries hard, as hard as Chris Gardner himself, but it just isn't the powerhouse life-changing conclusion that it needed. It does however still deliver a heartwarming ending that any family will enjoy seeing together.
Even though The Pursuit of Happyness is not a stellar film, I support it for its message about fighting for your passions and for what you love despite your own hardships. It goes to show that if you dedicate yourself to your passions and you work hard through the tough times, you will come out successful in the end. If you're looking to find a heartwarming story about one man's struggles, then this is worth it entirely. It performs well but doesn't exceed far beyond expectations.
The deliberately-misspelled Pursuit of Happyness is not the greatest film of the year, but it is still an achievement. It succeeded only partway in its attempt to translate the real-life story of Chris Gardner to the big screen and get the message out to the world. If you are looking for a genuinely inspirational father-son picture, this is definitely a great film to catch. It's such a feel-good and enjoyable movie with some great comedic moments as well. The inimitable relationship between Will Smith and his real-life son makes this film a crowd-pleaser even if its story is a bit uneven.