The Pursuit of Happyness: Movie Review
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Will Smith shines in The Pursuit of Happyness, a rags-to-riches tale about love, family, and pursuing the American Dream.
Smith portrays Christopher Gardner, a salesman struggling to make ends meet for his wife (Thandie Newton) and son (Jaden Christopher Syre Smith). As the family’s financial problems mount, his wife caves under the pressure and abandons him and their son.
Gardner’s luck goes from bad to worse as he and his son are evicted from their home and must survive on the streets of San Francisco. The father and son are forced to move from place to place seeking shelter wherever they can find it, even spending one night in a subway bathroom.
Things start looking up for Gardner when he applies for an internship with a stock brokerage firm. Though the internship is unpaid, one of the 20 interns will be chosen to stay with the company full-time. The ambitious salesman battles insurmountable odds to make himself stand out from his competitors in the hopes of landing the position.
Smith and his real-life son Jaden bring an emotional depth to the characters they play. The somber role of Gardner is quite a change for Smith, who is known for his less serious roles battling aliens in the Men in Black movies and portraying a matchmaking “date doctor” in the romantic comedy Hitch.
He tackles the role with a determined precision and turns out a spectacular performance, which is already generating talk of an Oscar. Though most scenes in the film have a very solemn feel, Smith’s cautious optimism and ambitious nature make us want to root for him to succeed. In a role that could have easily been played syrupy-sweet, Smith instead chooses to let his raw emotions shine through adding a layer of realism.
His son, Jaden, proves to be a natural as well. Portraying a child whose life and economic background is so completely opposite from his own doesn’t seem to be a challenge for the young actor. He seems to have a true understanding of the character’s emotional state and expresses it with ease.
Newton also provides a noteworthy performance as Gardner’s wife who becomes so emotionally distressed she makes the difficult choice to abandon her child. While promoting the movie recently, Newton said she wanted audiences to identify with her character’s profound pain rather than flippantly writing her off as an uncaring shrew. Her depiction of the troubled woman walks a fine line between the two.
While the story is a moving tale about a father’s love for his son and working hard to achieve dreams, it is more than that. Pursuit of Happyness is also a poignant portrayal of the problem of homelessness in our society. Perhaps what makes the film so powerful is that it is based on a true story. The problems that Gardner faces are problems faced by many in our society every day.
Anyone who is familiar with Gardner’s story, which was featured on the ABC news program 20/20 in 2003, will not be surprised at the way the film ends. However, I found myself wanting to see more from the latter part of Gardner’s life. I guess that is why the film is titled The Pursuit of Happyness. Though we do learn what became of him, we never get to see much of the joy that comes from Gardner’s struggles.
For this reason, the movie is not a feel-good picture that will leave you with the warm fuzzies. Instead, it is a touching fictional portrayal of a problem that is all too real. Chances are that this is not a film that you will quickly forget.
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