The International Writers
Magazine: Movie Review
Pursuit of Happyness
Director: Gabriele Muccino
Screen Writer: Steve Conrad
Cast: Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Dan Castellaneta, Thandie Newton
GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS
A Will Smith film seems to me to be the kind of film I would only
see in desperation. On a long-haul flight, on a Sunday night on
Channel Five, on a very rainy day in the middle of nowhere with
nothing but an Odeon cinema near by, these would be my worst-case
scenarios. In these cases, and only in these cases, would I watch
a Will Smith film.
This is why the trailer to The Pursuit of Happyness seemed surprisingly
captivating to me, a sceptic of any Hollywood mainstream beginning with
a panning shot of San Francisco/New York/LA. Maybe it was the little kid
(played by Jaden Smith, baby Smith himself), maybe it was that feel -good
feeling that modern pop soundtrack seems to bring. Amazingly enough, not
only did I find myself enjoying the film (and, admittedly, shedding a
tear at the end), I found myself having a newly acquired admiration for
Smith, and even (shock horror!) considered watching it again.
The plot develops from the true story of Chris Gardner, a struggling father
who needs to find financial subsistence for himself and his son on the
wild streets of upper-town Manhattan. Will Smith knows his call, and is
admirably believable as a down and out desperate father, considering his
personal life and the amount of dollars he has earnt per film since the
release of Men in Black, the 1997 film which turned Smith mainstream.
Gardner himself cameos in the film as a man walking past father and son
in the last scene, nicely following the tradition of 'appearing in the
film which has been made in honour of your story', i.e., Erin Brockowich
cameo-ing as a waitress serving Julia Roberts in the film version of her
story, Erin Brockowich (2000), etc.
The screenwriter Steve Conrad adds in a twist to the old rags-to-riches
Cinderella fable. The first interesting note is the lack of romantic interest.
Different to Erin Brockowich, where Julia Roberts falls for the friendly
neighbour who takes care of her children, Chris Gardner is strictly dedicated
to his son. Secondly, it is a great surprise to see a shift in the role
of the parent and parental importance to a plot. Linda (played by Thandie
Newton), Christopher's mother and Chris' former wife, is confused, defeatist
and reluctant to put up with her husband's positivity. She tries to keep
custody of Christopher in the first half hour of the film but eventually
(and evidentially) Chris wins over. She is never mentioned again. Not
your average Hollywood motherly figure.
Fairy godmother to the story is Jay Twistle (played by Brian Howe), the
Porshe-driving businessman who first catches Gardners' eye when he parks
outside the glamorous office block where he works in Manhattan. Gardner
sees him and realizes this is the life he would like to have (wouldn't
we all?). He goes for it. And the rest is history.
With no criticism intended whatsoever, don't expect genius camera angles
and innovative film photography. With Happyness, what you see is
what you get. It is sufficed to say that if you were expecting groundbreaking
cinematography, you would probably be sitting in the screen next door
watching Babel. Jaden Smith is also fantastic at his role, and so believable
that you begin to wonder if the members of the Smith family, in another
life, ever struggled to earn money and raise their kids.
© Gabriela Davies March 2007
gabrieladavies at gmail.com
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