The Pursuit of Happyness
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Gabriele Muccino
scr Steve Conrad
with Will Smith, Jaden Christopher Syre Smith, Thandie Newton, Dan Castellaneta, Brian Howe, Kurt Fuller, Takayo Fischer, Rocky LaRochelle, James Karen, Domenic Bove, Scott Klace, Adam Del Rio
release US 15.Dec.06,
UK 12.Jan.07
06/US Columbia 1h57

Living on a prayer: Smith and Smith

smith newton castellaneta

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The Pursuit of Happyness A true story told in a deeply heartwarming style: there's never any doubt where this film is going. But while it's genuinely inspirational, the script trivialises it by focussing on all the wrong things.

In 1970s San Francisco, Chris Gardener (Will Smith) is struggling to make ends meet, selling medical equipment door-to-door. His fed-up wife (Newton) finally decides to leave, but Chris won't let her take their 5-year-old son Christopher (Jaden, son of Will). When Chris gets an internship as a stockbroker, it means six extremely competitive months without a salary. He's got a plan, but everything that could go wrong does. And then some. Eventually father and son are homeless and desperate, counting on the slim chance of a permanent job at the end.

This is a seriously amazing story of tenacity against the odds, of being willing to give everything to achieve a dream. Watching Gardener's journey is often jaw-dropping, simply because of the obstacles that block every step. But this is also the film's main failing, because it centres on problems rather than Gardener himself. The plot is a litany of bad breaks, from getting arrested for unpaid parking tickets to having his merchandise stolen by homeless people, from being treated as a gofer by his boss (Castellaneta) to constantly showing up under-dressed for one reason or another.

It's just too much. Sure, Chris strikes it lucky here and there, but it's his raw achievement against the odds that's the most astonishing thing here--and the one thing we never really see. Instead this is a movie about a father and son who stick together amid overwhelming adversity, protecting each other with good humour and warm affection. That's not a bad story, but it's only part of this one.

Real-life father and son Will and Jaden are natural and believable, likeable and fresh. So it's a pity the filmmakers feel the need to lay on the sentiment so thickly, amping up the cuteness factor and focusing on the triumph over adversity, rather than their real accomplishment. It's a terrific tale, and the film is watchable. But it should have been much better than this.

cert 12 themes, language 20.Nov.06

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... The Pursuit of Happyness AT, Houston: 4.5/5 "Skeptical going in, surprised going out! What a delightful film. What this film showed was the determination of a father and his love for his son. Beating the odds, facing adversity--yeah, we've seen this before--but not quite like this. Not much else to say but 'go see this!' I cried and so did my fiancé. It was fresh and I agree maybe a bit too clean, but it stirred the emotions within." [1.Jan.07]
© 2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall