THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS
*** (out of 5)
December 15, 2006
Will Smith as CHRIS GARDNER
Jaden Christopher Syre Smith as CHRISTOPHER
Thandie Newton as LINDA
Brian Howe as JAY TWISTLE
James Karen as MARTIN FROHM
Dan Castellaneta as ALAN FRAKESH
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Directed by: Gabriele Muccino
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
I always get a kick out of this time of year. Not only do you have the big budget mainstream movies. You also have the ones that are vying for the critical awards. This year, the selection is a little blurred with some bona fide box office hits also getting awards nods, like “Borat” and “The Departed.” The latest movie that lands in this category is “The Pursuit of Happyness.”
Even though it’s being released a short week before Christmas, “The Pursuit of Happyness” is already enjoying some time in the awards spotlight. This gives Will Smith a strong advantage over the spider and pig movie (as well as the dragon movie), considering he just secured a Golden Globe nomination for his role in the film. We’ll just have to see how the box office shakes out.
“The Pursuit of Happyness” is your basic American feel-good movie for the holidays. Smith plays Chris Gardner, a salesman down on his luck in 1981 San Francisco. Struggling to be a good role model for his son, Gardner sets his sights on getting a job as a stock broken. Soon, he lands a competitive internship with Dean Witter. There’s no pay, but Gardner forges ahead, working on the weekends to make money elsewhere and keep his life afloat (barely).
“The Pursuit of Happyness” is a very inspirational story. There’s no doubt about this. However, it’s biggest hurdle is its own good intentions. The character of Christ… er, I mean Chris Gardner gets beaten down so much – and has a complete absence of faults – that it’s really unbelievable.
It’s not that I doubt the challenges of Gardner’s life. As someone who’s never hit rock bottom, but has come close at times, I know life can be tough. But Gardner in the movie is so good, so noble, so hard-working -–and his wife is such an evil creature – that it loses a dose of reality.
The film contemplates Thomas Jefferson’s mention of the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence – the at pursuit is granted as a right rather than happiness itself. This film and Chris Gardner’s story serves as a reminder that we must exercise that right to pursue happiness, ‘cause it ain’t gonna be just handed over.
Ultimately, though, the film is exceedingly well acted. Smith definitely earns his Golden Globe nod, and Thandie Newton bravely roughs herself up to much as Gardner’s wife that she looks like Nicole Richie from her celebrity mug shot.
There are some wrinkles that tend to be ignored in the film. For example, nothing necessarily against stock brokers, but the industry feeds off of hard-core sales. It’s also responsible for many societal woes like the stock market crash of 1929, insider trading and Black Monday in 1987. I’m not saying that Gardner had anything to do with these things, but they arose out of the industry’s dog-eat-dog attitude. I guess it’s hard to portray an actual stock broker as too sympathetic, which is why this movie’s about Gardner’s struggle to the top, not what he does afterwards.
I will give the film a pass, though, because it’s heart is definitely in the right place. With as much problems as this country has with men (black or white) who don’t take the responsibility for their kids, it’s nice to see a movie that can be presented with positive role models. After all, how many men out there refuse to change their kids’ diapers, let alone do the true hard work it takes to raise them – with or without a mother. Will Smith may be a little too perfect in this movie, but at least that gives the men in the audience something to strive for.
If you’re in the market for a holiday feel-good movie, check out “The Pursuit of Happyness.” If you’re cynical at all, pass this one up and go see the one where the spider dies.