Will Smith stars as Chris Gardner in this moving and powerful look at the American Tycoon’s life in the early 1980s.
The movie is about Gardner’s tough upbringing, trying to sell expensive medical equipment whilst trying to survive with his long-suffering wife Linda (played by Thandie Newton) and in the meantime bringing up their five-year-old son Christopher, played marvellously by Will Smith’s son Jaden Smith.
Gardner’s struggle to pay bills, pay taxes and sell what medical doctors don’t need turns Linda against Garrner – who is fed up with her husband’s promises of a bright future and lack of a regular income.
With no money, and no regular job Chris takes his son and are soon to forced to live, sleep and eat on the streets, in shelters – and once, sleeping in a public toilet, trying to survive from one day to the next.
Chris, determined to make something worthwhile of his life see’s a glimmer of hope when he enrols into an unpaid internship at a major stock brokerage firm, with the promise of a well paid job at the end of the internship to the most promising candidate.
So Chris must wake every day, wash his son with a bar of soap and a washcloth, read up on his chosen subject whilst trying to keep his homelessness from his new boss Jay Twistle and still land multi-million dollar corporations as part of his unpaid job as a brokerage intern.
Will Smith delivers an exceptionally strong lead performance and the decision to cast his son Jaden in support reaps rewards, especially in the scenes where Chris struggles to remain mentally strong for his boy, the most moving parts of the movie are when Smith and his son are in the public toilet, trying to get to sleep, whilst Smith puts his foot to the door, and softening the noise of a beaten door from his sleeping son. That scene moved me a lot. As did the scene where Smith is forced to become homeless, yet is determined enough to get up, go to work, come back and have enough energy to read a book the size of “War and Peace”, a book that would determine his success or failure to escape the streets.
This movie is really a powerhouse feel good movie, a movie where a guy, like Rocky, overcomes the odds to achieve something, something great.
Issues of poverty, social deprivation and how we treat homelessness is also covered, but stronger concepts such as racism and the “Yuppy” attitude that infested the 1980s are not covered. Also, nothing is shown about Gardner giving something back to the homeless shelters that helped him; I always considered it to be one on the cornerstones of entrepreneurship (ie: to give and to give back), but here it just felt Chris took and anybody got in the way was, just in the way.
In the movie Will Smith’s character Chris Gardner raises the question whether it’s the pursuit of happiness that keeps us all going to work, to pay off the bills – it’s a question I myself have asked myself, he asks “is there something more?” and whether happiness can ever really be acquired? In this movie it never really answers what happiness is, however it does link personal goals to it – and it appears, for whatever reason, that Gardner’s ideal of happiness is to get a high paying job for a high paying Fortune 500 company. Is that really what happiness is? I dunno, but that just seems a bit, well, contrived – everyone works, not everyone can be paid like a soccer player, or a multi-million dollar broker dealer. Yet, apart from Gardner’s high value of his son, no other form of happiness is ever raised and that is something I feel was missing from this movie.
Apart from the questions that Pursuit of Happyness raises, the movie is very powerful and moving, although there were parts of the movie that did really bother me.
Firstly, the first screen titles you see are parts of the movie, then it stops every now and again for a black screen telling you who else is in the movie – it repeats this process many times until the movie actually gets underway. This is a really amaterish way of introducing your movie, nobody wants to sit in a movie theatre reading a black screen with a bunch of names on – the director should have done a montage of sequences showing the daily struggle of Chris Gardner and his family with the actor’s names woven seemlessly into the movie.
The director makes another fundamental mistake, and that is the ending is way too abrupt. They simply put a black screen with white text telling you how the story ends. Well, I found it a lazy way of ending the movie – where was Chris actually introducing his son to his new home? Where was the scene where Chris did the multi-million dollar deal that helped him generate his fortune?
I thought it was real lazy directing *not* to show any scenes where he actually made it. It felt like there was no pay off.
Apart from these small issues, the movie is very powerful, and emotional, the best and most powerful line in the whole movie sum up the movie, and the American Dream…
“Don’t let anybody tell you you can’t do something. Even me,” Chris commands his son, in one of the screenplay’s rousing speeches, which shamelessly tug the heartstrings. “You gotta dream, you gotta protect it… You want something? Go get it. Period.”
Pursuit of Happyness (IMDB)