Will Smith at his dignified best in Pusuit of Happyness
PUBLISHED: 11:07 11 January 2007 | UPDATED: 10:30 07 September 2010
The Pursuit of Happyness (12A) Directed by Gabrielle Muccino. Starring Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Thandie Newton, Brian Howe, Dan Castellanetta. 117 mins Three-star rating Will Smith s latest is an emotional and inspiring tale of a man s effort to overcome
The Pursuit of Happyness (12A) Directed by Gabrielle Muccino. Starring Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Thandie Newton, Brian Howe, Dan Castellanetta. 117 mins
Will Smith's latest is an emotional and inspiring tale of a man's effort to overcome adversity and bring up his son properly.
The emotions it moves you to will depend on your tolerance for Hollywood paeans to the American Dream. But I'd say this has far more integrity than is normal in such films.
Based on a true story, at the start Chris Gardner (Smith) is at a low ebb - a decent man who can barely support his family working as a salesman. His problems though are only just beginning. His wife (Newton) leaves him to bring up their son alone as he attempts to make it through a six-month unpaid internship. At the end of this he has a one in 20 chance of landing a lucrative job at a stockbrokers.
The appeal of the material to Smith is obvious. It's a chance to put a really positive black role model on the screen, one that is honest, hard-working, devoted to his child (played by Will's own son Jaden) and never gives up in the face of adversity. And what adversity - Gardner has it so tough nobody even gets round to being racist to him. Smith must have had action film roles less exhausting than this. He spends half the movie running around lugging suitcases and boxes as he tries to complete his busy schedule.
There is a problem at the heart of the material. Gardner is an heroic figure on a quest that is fundamentally ignoble. The film admirably pulls no punches when it comes to exposing just how tough, how totally unforgiving things are for those who are slipping through the net. There's no loyal friend figure in this movie. Nobody gives him a break, everybody looks out for themselves. When he and his son are made homeless an acquaintance won't even pay him the $14 he owes them.
So we have a vision of just how heartlessly materialistic American society is, when we are supposed to cheer on the hero's materialistic ambitions. It doesn't help that, from the view the film gives us, stockbroking seems to involve nothing more dignified than lots of cold calling and relentless brown-nosing.
But Smith is absolutely tremendous. The flawless man is a difficult role to make work - but he really gets you inside it. When at the end he gets his big emotional scene, he plays it with such restraint and dignity that even this marble-hearted reviewer found himself ever so slightly moved.