Will Smith as Chris Gardner
Jaden Smith as Christopher
Thandie Newton as Linda
Brian Howe as Jay Twistle
James Karen as Martin Frohm
Dan Castellaneta as Alan Frakesh
Kurt Fuller as Walter Ribbon
Takayo Fischer as Mrs. Chu
Kevin West as World’s Greatest Dad
Chris Gardner (Will Smith) is the type of guy everyone knows and most have been at one point in their life or another – the working poor. He’s smart and diligent but unable to catch a break and falling further and further behind in his responsibilities to everything except his young son (Jaden Smith) whom he’d promised to always be around for, no matter the circumstances.
“The Pursuit of Happyness,” the sorta true story of the actual Chris Gardner, is the quintessential telling of the American Dream, a man living in the lowest circumstances who, through talent and sheer determination, pulls himself up by his bootstraps.
When a position for a competitive internship at the Dean Witter Reynolds brokerage firm opens, Chris sees his one chance at the brass ring and applies for it, despite the fact it doesn’t pay anything and his bills are mounting.
The first American film from Italian director Gabriele Muccino (“L’ultimo bacio”), “Pursuit” is heavily-romanticized – Chris gets his interview by solving the HR Manager’s (Brian Howe) Rubik’s Cube – but manages for the most part to stay away from schmaltz and is only occasionally trite.
After his wife (Thandie Newton) leaves him, Chris finds himself trying to raise his son and keep his head above water long enough to finish his internship program, but the harder he tries the more obstacles life throws in his way. No matter how hard he works, the problems just keep mounting, and he eventually finds himself broke and homeless. But no matter how hard things get, Chris never looses sight of his goal or his own sense of self-worth.
Smith is actually quite good as Chris, which is good because everyone else is relegated more to a plot device than an actual character. Newton gets the worst of it as the nagging wife who doesn’t believe in Chris at all and quickly abandons him and their son. There aren’t any other real characters in the film, just momentary plot contrivances.
Spliced throughout the film are Chris’s occasional thoughts about the meaning of happiness and it’s inclusion in the Declaration of Independence as a basic right of American life. “The Pursuit of Happyness” seems to be aiming for some level of insight about the true nature of the American Dream, but the final message seems a bit muddled. Victory is inevitably entangled with financial success, which may in fact be a major part of the American Dream, but the downside of that sort of thinking is never really focused on, which is strange in a story where Chris’s connection to his son is played on so strongly.
“The Pursuit of Happyness” is a very Hollywood film, which could be good or bad depending on your point of view. It tries very hard to be profound and inspirational, but ultimately it’s not up to the task.