****out of *****
OK, so I’ll admit I’m a bit late in seeing “The Pursuit of Happyness” (the movie was released over a month ago).
Since it was almost a foregone conclusion that Will Smith’s performance in the film would merit him a Best Actor Oscar nomination – and it did – I thought I would see what all the fuss was about.
“The Pursuit of Happyness” is one of those films prefaced with the words “inspired by a true story,” and so even before a frame has rolled, we know what we’re in for: The story of a man who is down on his luck, but through a combination of hard work, determination and good fortune, manages to attain success.
And yet, despite the film’s formulaic approach I still liked it very much. Smith getting an Oscar nod is well-earned, and ultimately it is Smith’s performance that gives “Happyness” its emotional resonance.
Smith stars as Chris Gardner, a salesman of wildly unpopular bone density scanners. Gardner lives in a cramped San Francisco apartment with his wife (Thandie Newton) and son (Jayden Christopher Syre Smith, Will Smith’s real-life son).
Chris’s relationship with his wife is tenuous at best, and after a series of spats about Chris’s inability to bring in his share of the money for the rent, she leaves him.
Concurrent to all of Chris’s problems at home, he has to face the challenge of being in a highly competitive internship at a stock brokerage film.
The internship is unpaid, but it is the path to a better life, and so Chris rolls up his shirtsleeves, turns on his affable charm and sets out to be the last one standing at the end of the internship.
The scenes at the brokerage firm allow us to see Chris in his natural element, talking to potential clients in his polite but confident style and proving his ingenuity and determination for company execs by solving a Rubik’s Cube.
However, the confident Chris of the internship scenes is in sharp contrast to the single-dad Chris, who desperately wants to provide for his son both materially and emotionally, and who sometimes fails on both counts.
The scenes where Chris and his son spend nights in subway station bathrooms and homeless shelters are some of the most affecting in the film because Smith is able to convey Chris’s inherent decency and his overwhelming desire to make things right; when Chris tells his son, “Don’t let anybody ever tell you you can’t do something,” we believe him.
And so, despite a fairly predictable execution and an underdeveloped role for Newton as Chris’s wife, “The Pursuit of Happyness” succeeds on the strength of Smith’s performance as a man who pursues, in every way he can, one of the most basic tenets of the American Dream.
Staff writer Jeff Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the individual author and not necessarily those of the Collegian.