Written by Steve Conrad
Directed by Gabriele Muccino
Running Time: 1:57
for some language.
The Pursuit of Happyness was a decent movie with some humor but not enough emotion to keep me involved.
Chris Gardner has a rough life. He's married with a son and they're having a hard time making ends meet. His wife works double shifts while Chris attempts to sell bone density scanners door-to-door. For each one he sells, they have enough money to make it through a month. But when he goes a few months without selling one, their lives start to fall apart. First his wife wants to leave, then the landlord wants them out of the apartment. Chris decides its time for him to try and make a new life, so he applies for an internship with Dean Witter, but it's a 6-month process during which he won't be paid. When Chris is left alone with his son, he'll do whatever it takes to make sure they're both safe until his dreams can become a reality.
The Pursuit of Happyness is based on a true story, so it's hard to discuss the story. I don't know how much of it is based on reality and how much is made up for Hollywood, but I never found the movie to be very emotional. When the trailers first came out, there were a couple of scenes that looked like they would be extremely powerful. One is when you see Chris and his son standing by a fence and Chris says 'Don't let anyone ever tell you, you can't do something. Not even me.' What you don't realize is that it follows a conversation where Chris has just told his son he'll never amount to anything as a basketball player, so don't even bother trying. Isn't that just the equivalent of smacking your son then immediately saying, 'Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean it, I won't do it again'? And I think that's where the movie never took hold for me. I never found Chris to be a nice person.
This was one of those movies where the lead is allowed to say or do anything because he's the sympathetic character, the one fighting from nothing to get somewhere. So when his wife says she's fed up and wants to leave, she's the problem, not Chris. Everyone is supposed to accommodate Chris and what he wants, but he's allowed to do whatever he pleases. He yells at everyone, but because it's all in the name of doing the right thing for his son, we're supposed to say, aww, he's just looking out for his son, it's ok. The only time I ever felt something for Chris was during the scene in the bathroom (another one used in the trailer) where he and his son are forced to spend the night. It was at that moment I could finally see that Chris was scared. Before that it felt like he was in denial of his situation. But that one moment in the bathroom, it all came flooding out.
I've come to the realization that for a lot of movies, if they're, let's say 2 hours long, if the first 90 minutes are long and drawn out, but the last 30 minutes are exciting/emotional/entertaining, people leave the theater happy. Which means you can make a crappy movie but as long as the last memories people have of the film are positive ones, they tend to think the entire movie was good and forget the beginning. I have a feeling that's why The Pursuit of Happyness is getting reasonable reviews. Yes, Will Smith does a fine job in the lead, but it's in the last 30 minutes of the film that he really gets going. Otherwise, he seems to only do a lot of running and yelling. Oh and a Rubik's Cube. That Rubik's Cube is what really puts Chris on the path to greatness. I thought his wife's character was extremely underused. She barely had anything to say and when she did speak it was the same lines over and over. The rest of the adults in the movie were fine, but didn't add anything to the film.
The real star of the movie, for me at least, was Will Smith's real life son, Jaden, who played Christopher. This was his acting debut, and it could turn out that we'll find out this is the only way he knows how to act, but he was just adorable. He managed to have all the emotion his father didn't, whether it was happy for getting a basketball, scared that his father was going to leave him in the park, or sad his mother left. He's got a naturally hang-dog look about him, but his voice was always full of hope, no matter what the situation. And when he said the line 'You're a good Poppa' I'll admit, I got a tear in my eye. Of course that line came in the last 30 minutes of the film, where the movie finally started to get good.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So overall, I thought The Pursuit of Happyness was a decent film but not a great one. The first 90 or so minutes were long and drawn out, and I never felt any connection to the lead. But the last 30 minutes had all the emotion pack into it and made up for the rest of the film.
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