The American dream is a unique hope, a driving force of immigration to this country and an enduring promise to those harboring yet-unfulfilled ambitions. In most films, success comes fairly easily, through situations either comedic (The Secret of My Success) or dramatic (Citizen Kane). No film I’ve seen captures the true difficulty of success as powerfully as The Pursuit of Happyness.
Portraying real-life homeless-man-turned-success-story Chris Gardner, Oscar nominee Will Smith’s finest and most sensitive performance provides the heart of the film. His retrospective narration and recognition of mistakes add to the film’s structure, which is essentially one man’s efforts to survive between an unpaid job, fatherhood, and homelessness. Quite frankly, most of the film is intensely depressing. Many times when Chris seems to be on the verge of a turning point for improvement, circumstances decline even further; opportunities become disappointments, and hopes become letdowns. “Happyness” (a misspelling seen on his son’s daycare mural) seems always out of reach. Yet through all of these obstacles, Chris himself is an entirely admirable father, long-suffering and tenacious, the kind of guy the audience can root for without reservation. Smith’s on-screen relationship with his real son Jaden is genuine throughout, and there’s never any doubt about Chris’s paternal love.
At times, the film is reminiscent of Kramer vs. Kramer; there’s even an exchange in which the son wonders if Mommy left because of him, only to be reassured by Dad. Yet, whereas Ted Kramer had much to learn about fatherhood and needed to fight to keep his son, Chris Gardner was already an ideal father and was forced to fight for a bed, a meal, and a future. While Kramer’s happy ending was essentially an act of goodwill from his ex-wife, Chris’s final success was hard-fought and satisfying. The moment when he finally gets the well-paid stockbroker position for which he had only hoped for the last six months is a quiet, understated scene that pulls at the heartstrings in a legitimately deserved way, like when Rudy earns admission to Notre Dame in Rudy. It’s a brief realization of “happyness” that makes all the inordinate hardships and struggles he endured at last worthwhile. The Pursuit of Happyness depicts the highs and lows of the American dream, which, though elusive, is eminently gratifying when achieved.
Best line: (Mr. Frohm, when Chris is forced to show up to an interview underdressed) “What would you say if a man walked in here with no shirt, and I hired him? What would you say?” (Chris Gardner, after a moment of thought) “He must have had on some really nice pants.”Rank: 53 out of 60
© 2014 S. G. Liput
229 Followers and Counting