There are certain films that you could script all the way. You know where they’re going, you know when the montage will start, and you know you’ll feel your heart strings tugged at a bit. So then, for films like that, what do they need to do work as pieces of enjoyable entertainment? Well, the art has to come in the execution. The depth has to come from the actors. In the case of The Pursuit of Happyness, even though you’re led all the way (and you already know the route) it’s still kind of a comforting journey.
If you’ve seen the trailer you know the story. If you haven’t here goes: Chris Gardner (Will Smith) is a down on his luck dad who pursues an internship at Dean Witter. To say he’s not catching many breaks would be an understatement. He’s poor, he’s got a rough relationship with his wife, a guy owes him $14 bucks he needs (remember, I said he was poor), and he’s also working a salesman job for a product no one wants. To make matters worse he keeps losing said product (a bone density scanner) and ends up having to chase people down in the streets of San Francisco an awful lot.
There’s your plot. As far as the cast goes, Jaden Smith, Will’s real life son, plays his movie son. Talk about typecasting! Seriously though, the kid is good here. Most kids are good, because it’s easy to be cute when you’re young, but in this case I think Jaden could have a future in the biz if he wants one. One negative thing, Thandie Newton was handed a disastrous role and really knocked it out of the nasty park. She’s was just about unwatchable. Sorry babe, but your uneven oddly edited portrayal of a completely unsupportive psychopath didn’t do much for the movie or her career.
The only other weakness in Happyness (besides the dumb name) is the overall inevitability attached to the entire work. I mentioned that in the first paragraph but I’ve that’s the reason I can’t give an A grade. The acting is good, the resolution is good, the movie overall is good. But it’s not great.
What really works is how positive this film is overall. There are many rough times for the father — son pairing but I for one never felt like Smith’s character was giving up. He worked diligently to make his son’s life better and that’s where the message of the film was for me. Yes, the underdog fight for your dreams element is present, but more interesting to me was the idea of “teaming up” against all odds to face the world. The relationship between Smith and his son carries the entire plot, and it does so in a respectable fashion.
So this a modest recommendation. It’s done well, especially given the holiday release schedule where more sentiment is allowed. You will feel entertained throughout, you’ll get some inspiration if you’re in that frame of mind and you’ll get to see Will Smith show off his acting chops. I’d call this a small victory for everyone involved with Pursuit of Happyness, and really aren’t small victories what life is all about?