The Pursuit Of Happyness
We have all had some days in our lives where it just seems that life is conspiring against us. You know, work is stressful, our commute far too long and hoe life has become a drag. At times like this sometimes it helps to pull back from yourself and watch a film that shows someone with a life more difficult than you could have imagined. When it comes to overcoming obstacles Chris Gardner is towards the top of almost every possible list. He was practically the poster boy for the definition of the phrase ‘pulling your self up by your bootstraps’. This man decided that his life was not working out they way he wanted and instead of moaning about it he took his destiny in his own hands and made something of himself. The film ‘Pursuit of Happyness’, loosely based on his life looks at a man who is now a very successful stock broker in San Francisco after overcoming homelessness, jail time, a broken marriage and bankruptcy. To be fair while the real story is extraordinary enough the film does take numerous liberties for ‘artistic’ purposes.
Life started out full of promise for Chris Gardner (Will Smith). He was usually a straight ‘A’ student; very strong in mathematics. When he got married to Linda (Thandie Newton) the couple moved into a nice apartment and started their own business. Gardner purchased a quantity of medical scanners with the plan to sell them to hospitals and doctors earning a tidy profit. Five years later they have a son, Christopher (Jaden Smith) and most of the machines are still unsold. Gardner couldn’t get his mind around what was happening. He was a gifted salesman but still he was not able to unload his stock. The cost of the machines put them out of the budget of most of his perspective clients. The point comes when Linda has had enough. She takes a job in New York City and prepares to leave. Gardner manages to retain custody of Christopher as mom leaves for the east coast. The financial picture grows worse and in desperation Gardner looks into the high pressure world of stock brokerage. He learns that there are internships opening up at the world renowned Dean Witter. There he is interviewed by one of the managers of the program, Jay Twistle (Brian Howe), and impresses him with his ability to solve a Rubik's Cube in an extremely short time. The training program comes with long hours, hard work and no pay. There will be no money in this endeavor unless Gardner can beat out the other nineteen candidates and win the job. While this glimmer of hope is far off on the horizon Gardner has to deal with more immediate problems. Gardner and his son have been evicted from their home not once but twice. Gardner has to find some place to live even if it’s in a homeless shelter or cleaning up in a train station restroom. Gardner also has to find some place to watch over Christopher during the working day. He finds a day care center that would take the boy. Gardner’s time is split between making a game of the hardship for his son while coping with the screaming, high tension competitive nature of the internship program. He stands with one foot in the world of high finance and the other waiting in line for free food. Although he has to sell plans to millionaires he also has to scrounge for ever morsel of food and the most meager of shelter.
This film cuts across several genres. It is a father-son buddy flick combined with an old fashion ‘out from under adversary’ movie. There is a tendency to tread the line of a sappy made for Lifetime flick but never quite goes over the edge. Director Gabriele Muccino shows some restraint in this area with expert editing to tell the two sides of the story. He includes little pieces of irony such as Gardner can solve a Rubik's Cube in no time at all but he can’t always come up with a means to feed himself and his son. The story also humanizes the politically changed issue of the homeless. Most films tend to show the failures; drug addiction, prostitution and despair. This one shows that anyone is a paycheck or two from becoming another statistic in the eyes of politicians. This is not a film of great moments. It shows how the little victories can hold a man together, letting him not only get through the day but improve his life. Muccino handles the pacing by juxtaposing the two worlds Gardner lives in. There is a rush of activity at work where Gardner knows every action is being judged. When he is with his son there is a tender, slower paced feel. Usually a stock broker flick has greed at its core; here Gardner wants to make sure his son never has to face this life of despair again.
There is a difference between a good actor and a great one. The good actor presents his character; the great actor becomes him. In this film Will Smith is great. There is not a single moment when the audience doubts that he is Gardner. Of course playing a man balancing career with family is a bit easier since he was playing opposite his own, real life son. Smith is one of those actors who never seem to disappoint. Even in films that fall short of expectations (anyone remember "Wild, Wild West’?), his performance is always a pleasure to behold. Whether he is saving the world from aliens or portraying one of the world’s greatest boxers Smith embodies his subject. In this film he gives us a view of Gardner as a bright, driven man who has not forgotten what is truly important, his son. Success for Gardner is not for the sake of financial superiority it is for his own flesh and blood. This is Jaden Smith’s first time in a feature film and what a debut it is. Here is a child actor who seems to have been genetically engineered to give a great performance. After all with parents like Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith he has big leg up on other perspective child stars. He has inherited his father’s easy going manner; able to pull the audience in on an emotional level and make us care. Hopefully, his parents will help him remain grounded as he progresses in his career. Thandie Newton is a powerful, talented actress who is not given much to do in her role. To her credit she has taken a smaller role such as this just to expand her craft.
Sony Home Entertainment has released this film to DVD with their usual eye towards excellence. Yes, there is a pan & scan version available but let’s not dwell on it. The anamorphic, 2.40:1 video version is the one to get. The film is well shot and much of the ambience is lost with cropping. The color balance is well done with a palette that is true to life. The Dolby 5.1 audio is hearty and provides a full, rich sound stage. This is a film that the whole family can enjoy together.