The Pursuit of Happyness (2006) February 23, 2009Posted by gproject in : Recently Viewed , trackback
Directed by: Gabriele Muccino
When it comes to exemplifying that title, few stories do it better than Chris Gardner’s. As a down on his luck salesman, Chris just can’t shift the expensive hospital bone scanners he is tasked to sell, after spending his life savings buying into the resale scheme. As a consequence, his wife chooses to end their relationship, leaving a financially strapped Chris to look after their son. Despite losing everything, Chris is determined to provide for his child, even during an existence that sees them living in and out of homeless shelters. But there is a ray of hope – a highly competitive, 6-month stockbroker internship that Chris has managed to talk his way into. If he is successful, he may land a high salary job. But there’s a catch: the gruelling internship is completely unpaid.
All the marketing and promotion for this movie made quite clear its intention to be a kind of modern day American fable - but with the distinct advantage of being based on a real story. Following that path, they’re happy for it to be considered as a movie about the classic American dream, and one that proves the historical hope and possibility associated with the country is still alive today. So maybe the strangest twist behind the film was hiring Italian director Gabriele Muccino.
In actuality, the producers seem quite proud of the paradox, and are pleased to point it out in the DVD’s special features. In the end, it has made little difference to the final effect of the story, which is as powerful and emotionally reassuring as required. I do think there’s a questionable relationship to the traditional American dream scenario though, mainly because Chris Gardener, despite his many hardships, was in fact a very intelligent man. He’s hardly the everyman that represents the opportunities available to all who reside in the United States.
But that is by the by, and not really a criticism of a film that is very well put together and acted, if a little flawed in its conclusion. Director Gabriele Muccino handles the visuals with a keen sense of style and effective shot choices. What he captures best is the raw emotion in a scene, be it the increasing turmoil of Gardener’s situation, or the light-hearted and sweet relationship between father and son. As much as he might be considered a left-of-field choice for this American tale, the decision to use him was unquestionably the right one.
This film also benefits from very strong performances by the central cast. Will Smith, particularly, get a chance to shine in a role that demands something different from the hardened action-men and sarcastic heroes that we are used to seeing him play. As Chris Gardener, he brings a great sense of the irrepressible underdog to the screen, but what makes the film truly special is the relationship he has with his son, Christopher. This is almost certainly because Christopher is played by Jaden Smith, Will’s real-life son, but still he does an equally great job and marks himself out for following in his father’s footsteps.
The rest of the cast are worth mentioning too, including Thandie Newton as Chris’s wife Linda, and Brian Howe as the olive-branch-extending business exec, Jay Twistle. The Weatherman writer Steven Conrad has done a solid job of adapting Chris Gardener’s book from which the movie takes its title (for spelling perfectionists, the mistake is intentional), although if there’s one glaring omission it is the feel-good factor that would make this film a genuinely uplifting experience.
Unfortunately, come the end of The Pursuit of Happyness, it turns out to have been all pursuit, leaving very little time for happiness. We barely get a chance to bask in the warm glow of Gardener’s eventual success, before the credits are ushering us out of the film and back into our everyday lives. For a movie that deals in so many forms of emotional pain, it is a shame that we don’t get to spend just a little time soaking in the redemption. As strong a story as this is, its use as an exemplification of the American dream is surely questionable. Unless, of course, you can count the success of Gabriele Muccino, for whom this low-key film should be the doorway to much more US work in the future. Maybe it is still the land of possibility, after all.