“Happyness” is a Father who knows best
“The Pursuit of Happyness” (misspelled for a reason) may not be a perfect film, but it is a must-see for all fathers. Seeing actor Will Smith portray Chris Gardner, the determined subject of the true story that inspired this film, one can’t help but wish the world was filled with more fathers like him. The all-too-popular depiction of the head of the household in movies and television today is the father as clueless goofball, nerd, and the brunt of most of the jokes. On rare occasion, Hollywood produces a film that showcases a worthy exemplar– “In Good Company” and “Evelyn” come to mind– the kind of imperfect but believable patriarch who commands and earns our respect.
The real Chris Gardner is such a father. In one of those good-intentions-gone-wrong decisions, Gardner and his wife Linda (Thandie Newton) spend their savings to buy bone density scanners for Chris to sell to doctors in the San Francisco area. Set in 1981, we watch Chris literally run himself ragged trying, for the most part unsuccessfully, to sell the temperamental and pricey technology. Through misfortune and thievery, the bulky sewing machine-sized devices often end up in the wrong hands. As financial pressures mount, Linda, takes off and agrees to leave their five-year-old son Christopher (played by Jaden Christopher Syre Smith, Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith’s darling son), with Chris. Newton’s performance feels a little strained but in a film with fairly narrow characters, hers presents questions that aren’t meant to be explored.
Will Smith continues his upward trend of bringing warmth, wisdom, and a hint of vulnerability to his portrayals. It’s easy to see why a large stock brokerage firm is willing to grant him a six month internship– his persistence and charisma are undeniable. Trouble is, how does Chris keep afloat during the no-income program, especially when there’s no guarantee of a job when it’s over?
Challenges mount for the grey-templed father and his cheerily inquisitive son as financial woes lead them to seek refuge in homeless shelters, BART stations, and dingy motels. Steven Conrad’s script works overtime to tug at the heartstrings, but not in a false or manipulative way. Knowing the story is based on actual events, and with Smith and son to give the film an unforced authenticity, “The Pursuit of Happyness” rings true on every wrenching note.
In its effort to champion the rewards of ambition, determination, and sacrifice-“The Pursuit of Happyness” doesn’t ignore the plight of anyone who struggles regardless of intellectual ability, class or poignantly, race. Indeed, the film spends little time on payoff. Chris Gardner’s fight is everyman’s fight. A battle to do good, to remain true to his material objectives without sacrificing that which really matters to him– his trusting little shadow.
A dad for all seasons.
Rated PG-13 for some language, including an “f-word” used in graffiti context.