The Pursuit of Happyness
Review by Jack Foley
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio Commentary By Director Gabriele Muccino; Making Pursuit: An Italian Take On The American Dream; Father And Son: On Screen And Off; The Man Behind The Movie: A Conversation With Chris Gardner; Inside The Rubik’s Cube.
WILL Smith delivers one of the finest performances of his career in The Pursuit Of Happyness, a rags-to-riches tale that’s based on a true story.
The actor is remarkably restrained and demonstrates some touching devotion as self-employed businessman Chris Gardner, who struggles to make a better life for his family in the face of overwhelming hardship.
What’s more, he does it in the company of his real-life son, Jaden Smith (making his movie debut), which only makes the father-son relationship at the centre of the story more poignant.
It’s a shame, therefore, that other elements of the film struggle to impress as mightily as the Smiths, given that Gabriele Muccino’s direction often feels laboured and layers on the hardship a little too thick.
The film picks up as Gardner attempts to make ends meet by selling medical equipment to hospitals, albeit unsuccessfully.
His wife Linda (Thandie Newton) is having to work two jobs and the strain is threatening their marriage. When she leaves, it’s up to Chris to find the means to support his son and provide him with a proper education.
Accepting a six-month unpaid internship at a brokerage firm, Chris works hard to win the job that lies in wait but his money runs out and father and son are forced to seek shelter in overcrowded hostels and train station toilets.
But Chris refuses to lose sight of his principles and continues to act as a role model to those around him, winning the respect of his son in the process.
For the most part, The Pursuit Of Happyness succeeds because of Will Smith, whose sensitive portrayal of Gardner has rightly been recognised with a Golden Globe nomination.
It’s a performance of grit and determination as well as quiet desperation at the prospect of not being able to provide for his son that rivals his Oscar nominated work on Ali.
The scenes he shares with Jaden are particularly memorable and it’s tribute to both star and director that they’re never allowed to drift into mawkish sentimentality.
Viewers should be warned, however, that the duo’s journey towards happiness is a very sombre affair that frequently feels like heavy going.
So much misfortune befalls Gardner that viewers may equally feel like despairing – and a little more humour along the way could have been injected.
Muccino’s decision to afford Smith the spotlight also comes at the expense of other performers, with Newton emerging as hopelessly one dimensional and unsympathetic.
And a somewhat surreal recurring storyline involving one of Gardner’s medical machines sits awkwardly alongside some of the more gritty material.
Criticisms aside, The Pursuit Of Happyness remains worth seeing for the performances of the Smiths alone, which prove just as inspiring (if not more so) than the main story itself.
Running time: 1hr 47mins