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The International Writers Magazine
: Movie Review

The Pursuit of Happyness
Director: Gabriele Muccino
Screen Writer: Steve Conrad
Cast: Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Dan Castellaneta, Thandie Newton

Gabriela Davies

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

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