The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)

(On TV, February 2015)  A particularly aggressive entry in the “inspirational drama showing the protagonist triumphing against nearly-impossible odds”, The Pursuit of Happyness gives a too-rare grown-up role to Will Smith as the father of a child who finds himself in desperate circumstances after losing his wife, his house, his savings and trying to take care of his son while chasing a near-impossible unpaid internship at a brokerage house.  Eking a meager living on the streets of 1980s San Francisco by night, giving the impression of being a serious stockbroker candidate by day, the story comes from real-life events from businessman Chris Gardner’s life, but dramatically softens some of the harsher edges of the truth.  (Sometimes in ways that don’t quite make sense: seeing a mother abandon her son is nigh-incomprehensible on film, but can be explained in the real story by the fact that he was the son from her husband’s affair.)  Still, this is the kind of film that has no shame in exploiting whatever sympathy we may have for its characters, their brutal setbacks and their tiny triumphs.  Smith is actually pretty good as a father trying to improve life for himself and his son –his performance feels free of his usual showboating tendencies, while allowing him enough opportunities to turn up the charm when necessary.  It may help that his son his played by his real-life son Jaden Smith.  The Pursuit of Happyness is occasionally asphyxiating in its desperation (the protagonist is so poor that every dollar counts) but fairly earns its final triumphs.  It’s definitively praise to point out that the film could have been far more mawkish or sentimental, and that by grounding its story into small and often painful details, it keeps the usual fanfare at bay.  It may not be pleasant viewing during most of its duration, but it amounts to a satisfying viewing experience.

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