Saturday 6 March 2021

Movie Review: The Pursuit Of Happyness (2006)

A drama about perseverance in the face of personal hardship, The Pursuit Of Happyness is a well-told inspirational story about a father's sacrifice and determination to turn his life around.

San Francisco, 1981. Salesman Chris Gardner (Will Smith) has invested all his savings in expensive bone density scanner devices, but is having trouble selling them to doctors in the area. His small family consisting of wife Linda (Thandie Newton) and young son Christopher (Jaden Smith) is buckling under the strain of dwindling financial resources. 

But Chris is good with numbers and people, and decides to apply for a stockbroker internship position at brokerage firm Dean Witter. Linda cannot take him seriously and eventually leaves the family.

Thanks to his persistent hounding of Dean Witter manager Jay Twistle (Brian Howe), Chris lands the internship. But it's an unpaid 6 month stint, which means he still has to hustle to sell the scanners and look after his child. Father and son run out of money and are eventually homeless, but Chris persists, determined to be the one intern out of 20 to be offered a job.

Inspired by the true rags to riches story of Chris Gardner, The Pursuit Of Happyness is an honest against-all-odds, feel-good experience. Celebrating fatherhood and a strong belief in self, director Gabriele Muccino sustains a narrative full of heart-wrenching moments but also love, hope and positive intent, and provides a sympathetic face to homelessness as a sometimes transitory phase. 

In addition to exploring the travails of the economically insecure, plenty of warmth is derived from Chris' dedication to fatherhood. Young Christopher's "Pursuit of Happyness" daycare in Chinatown is the only one his parents can afford, and the misspelled name hardly inspires confidence. But Chris never knew his father while growing up, and now wants to be the best dad possible for his son. And so even a daycare that screens Love Boat for the kids in the name of education about the navy is better than nothing. Later, Chris has to conjure up an imaginary landscape of dinosaurs to get his son through a tough unsheltered night.

The drama is lightly narrated by Smith, and his commentary latches on to a thought-provoking and deeply human theme in the Constitutional reference to the pursuit of happiness, rather than the end state itself. Chris acts accordingly, both professionally and personally, never settling and always striving to nourish his spirit with a promise of a better outcome.

The running length creeps towards excessive at just under two hours. Some scenes could have been cut and sequences of Chris running through the streets of San Francisco to make the bus or next sales appointment become repetitive. A what-else exasperation also sets in, as big and small gut punches keep landing (the film compresses Gardner's many real experiences into a shorter time frame).

In one of his career best performances, Will Smith again proves his dramatic role capabilities. Not a single joke or sarcastic note betrays Chris Gardner's mood of grim tenacity, and he keeps a straight face even during a late-in-the-day elevator-set verbal poke at a fellow intern.

Through the darkest days The Pursuit Of Happyness chases the faintest rays of light, barely perceptible and only to those with the courage to believe.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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