|The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
Starring: Will Smith, Thandie Newton, Jaden Smith, Brian Howe, James Karen
Director: Gabriele Muccino
Most people walk into a film like “The Pursuit of Happyness” expecting certain things: a friendly protagonist, a relatable experience, and that oh-so-important happy ending. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what you get, and nothing more. Even after sitting through nearly an hour of projection problems during our screening of the film – in which anyone could have just as easily left and guessed exactly what happened in the end – I decided to stick it out with the hope that something better was on the way. I lost an hour of my day and gained nothing. The film plays out just like you’re expecting it to, and while that usually wouldn’t be an issue for a feel-good movie being released during the feel-good season of the year, audiences will be expecting much more from a film that’s boasting star Will Smith’s performance as Oscar-worthy. There’s nothing special here, folks. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll probably cry some more, but you won’t give a damn about any of it by the time you get home.
Smith stars as Christopher Gardner, a struggling salesman in San Francisco during the early 1980s who sells luxury medical equipment that most doctors and hospitals have deemed unnecessary. When his wife (Thandie Newton) decides to leave after several years of living just above the poverty line – giving Christopher custody of their five-year-old son, Chris (played by real-life son, Jaden Smith) – he applies for an internship at a major stockbroker firm in the city. The six-month internship is not just highly competitive (only one of 20 applicants are eventually offered a job), but it’s also unpaid. Of course, Christopher has a plan, but everything that can go wrong does, including losing their apartment and being forced to live on the streets.
The rags-to-riches story of “Happyness” is, without a doubt, one of the most inspirational tales of the year, but there’s not a single unique element about it that hasn’t already been exploited in the past. Sure, it’s based on a true story, but so are a lot of movies these days (heck, “Hostel” was “inspired by true events”), and unless you’ve got something extraordinary on your hands, most people simply won’t care. Of course, they’ll be led to believe that they do if Sony pulls off a successful marketing plan that involves hyping Smith as a possible award winner. His scenes with Jaden are positively spilling over with genuine emotion, but it’s his son, and while the performance is good, it’s not good enough to warrant a nomination. Then again, this has been one of the worst years in film in a long time, so anything is possible.
In the end, “The Pursuit of Happyness” isn’t as easy of a recommendation as I had initially anticipated. It’s a good story that features a great cast (including some especially charming supporting turns from Brian Howe and James Karen as partners of the firm), and while moviegoers will undoubtedly still show up in throngs during opening weekend, I can’t help but feel that they’ll be somewhat disappointed. Perhaps it has something to do with Thomas Jefferson’s theory of the pursuit of happyness. Just because you’re expecting a certain result doesn’t mean it will necessarily come true.
The single-disc release of "The Pursuit of Happyness" features an audio commentary with director Gabriele Muccino, a making-of featurette ("Making Pursuit"), production featurette that goes inside the Rubik's Cube, and a conversation with the real Chris Gardner.