That darn “y” in “Happyness” has been bugging me for months. Not knowing Chris Gardner’s story, I had no clue of the meaning until about twenty minutes into The Pursuit of Happyness, a clearly Hollywood-ized account of Gardner’s entrance into the world of stock trading. Granted, the film has one of the best trailers of recent memory, but it only delivers what is promised and nothing more.
Gardner, portrayed by Will Smith, certainly had some amazing misfortunes – at least according to this account. Struggling with the sales of a revolutionary bone density reading machine, Gardner soon sees his wife, Linda (Newton), up and leave him with the responsibility of raising their son, Christopher (Smith, Will’s real-life son). Living day-to-day and with $21 to his name, Chris soon enters a stock broker internship at Dean Witter with a determination to make a better life for himself and Christopher. You’d be a fool if you didn’t think he succeeds.
Predictable from beginning to end, The Pursuit of Happyness is recommendable almost entirely because of Will Smith’s moving performance. Gardner is down on his luck for the majority of the film, but Smith’s charisma shines as he conveys Gardner’s willingness to crack a joke and break through even the hardest of corporate businessmen. A scene in which he and young Christopher must spend a night in a public restroom is devastating and well-acted by an increasingly diverse Smith. The interplay between Smith and his son is also well-played, particularly in scenes where they are doing what are otherwise normal father-son activities. This connection adds depth to the predictability.
Director Gabriele Muccino makes the mistake of overplaying the material and Steve Conrad’s script comes across as preachy in several scenes. The story seems oversimplified, which I suppose is expected since there is a lot to cover in feature-length time, but let’s face it: the chances of Gardner coming in contact with two people who have stolen his bone density machines in spacious San Francisco is next to zero. It’s these kinds of bizarre contrivances that hamper the emotional impact of the film.
At the end of the day, The Pursuit of Happyness is the type of emotionally uplifting film that will likely satiate the average movie goer’s appetite for some inspiration and the occasional tear – especially around the holidays. There’s nothing new here, just a whole lot of the old dependable. The difference is that the old dependable is above average.
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Length: 117 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for some language.
Theatrical Release: December 15, 2006
Directed by: Gabriele Muccino
Written by: Steve Conrad
Cast: Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Thandie Newton, Brian Howe, James Karen, Dan Castellaneta