thePURSUITofHAPPYNESS

 

Review by Mark Walters

 

 Will Smith is a great actor.  Unfortunately many people have forgotten that.  With the large number of big-budget blockbusters he's churned out in recent years, Smith has sadly become almost a caricature of himself.  Sometimes referring to himself as "Big Willy", folks hardly seem to remember his more talented performances in movies like SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION in 1993, or ALI in 2001.  But the talent is still there, and he just needs a chance to revisit it.  Cut to a 20/20 piece about a man named Chris Gardner, who back in the 1980's went from being homeless to working for a major stock broker firm.  Smith saw this piece, and wanted to tell that story on the big screen.  And so THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS was born.

 The film introduces us to Chris Gardner (Will Smith) through narration, where he explains how he's caught in a failing rut.  In an effort to support his hard working wife Linda (Thandie Newton) and young son Christopher (Jaden Smith, Will's real son), Gardner attempts daily to sell some overpriced and unneeded high density bone scanners to various doctors and hospitals.  He struggles just trying to raise enough money to pay for his son's child care service, which is housed in a building that can't even spell "happiness" the right way.  With little interest in his product, Chris begins to realize that it's time to pursue a serious career.  So he turns his attention to Dean Witter, hoping to become a stock broker.  But Linda has had enough, and decides to leave her husband.  Now Gardner must see his determination through, by entering an intern program where he gets no money for six months.  Plus at the end of that program, only one intern will be chosen to work for the company.  Can Chris make it through six months with no money, and support his son in the process?  And in the end will it all be worth it?

 Folks, this is the movie that proves just how talented Will Smith really is.  Forget all those popcorn flicks on July 4th weekend, this is where it's at.  In portraying Chris Gardner, Smith demonstrates a range and believability that is nothing short of amazing.  He's a sad and tortured man, and we sincerely want him to succeed.  This is the ultimate hero figure.  A guy who never has anything go his way, and wants so badly to get ahead in life, not for his own success, but to prove himself as a good father.  At no point in this film does Smith come across as cocky or slick.  He is an everyman who just needs a break.  It's great that Will's real life son Jaden plays his son in the movie, as there's some genuine on-screen chemistry between these two.  Their relationship comes across as real, and it is ultimately what makes the film work.  Thandie Newton is extremely unglamorous here, and rather nagging and annoying with her character.  Now granted, she's not supposed to necessarily be a likable counterpart, and when the going gets tough she ditches her family.  I'm curious as to whether or not her role was adjusted from Gardner's real wife's persona.  There are some nice supporting characters that are well cast.  Brian Howe plays Gardner's main contact at Dean Witter, Jay Twistle.  Howe has always been a great character actor, and he's pretty good here.  I also enjoyed seeing Dan Castellaneta as Gardner's unsympathetic trainer, and the lovable James Karen as the seasoned company big wig.  The cast complements Smith, which also helps the overall effect of the film.

 There's a nice plot element involving Gardner solving a Rubik's cube.  Remember, this film takes place in the 80's.  As a protagonist, we sincerely want to see this guy succeed.  However, the question must be asked as to whether he did everything he should have considering the circumstances.  Gardner was a single father going to work everyday for no money, just the longshot possibility that he might get a job when the internship was over.  During that time he and his son had to suffer many hardships, including shoddy living conditions, and little to eat.  So one must ask, why didn't Gardner just go get a normal job?  I mean technically there's no reason he couldn't have.  Considering his obligations to his son, was taking such a HUGE risk really the best idea?  Either way he's an amazing man.  Why?  I can't tell you, not without spoiling the film.  But I can say this is perhaps the best performance I've ever seen from Will Smith.  We're talking Oscar-worthy here.  I hope people get to experience this film and make their own judgments.  It's a terrific inspirational story that never gets too heavy-handed.  We've all had dreams, but not all of us have truly pursued them.  Chris Gardner did.  He let that dream become his life for six months.  Will Smith captured those six month beautifully in this movie.

BIGFANBOY.com score - On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being best, I give THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS a 9.


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