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Though Christopher Gardner desires success
And actively tries to pursue happiness,
He seems to be caught in a permanent rut;
The doors of reality always slam shut.
 
The debts and the taxes are piling up;
His wife’s irritation is dialing up.
He tries to sell bone scanners, plugging away,
Yet nothing pans out by the end of the day.
 
At last, his wife leaves and announces she’s done,
But Chris will not let her escape with his son.
Insisting he’ll care for him, Christopher starts
An internship in all the stockbroking arts.
 
Unfortunately, training there is unpaid;
For six months, he trusts in the scanner sales trade.
When IRS claims leave him suddenly broke,
He’s forced into lines with the destitute folk.
 
He’s forced to work harder than fellow interns,
Employing charisma and methods he learns.
Pursuit of his happiness ends in frustration;
It’s nowhere as easy as in the quotation.
 
Yet through all the heartache and difficult trials,
The proneness to tears and the fakeness of smiles,
He merits the job, chances twenty to one,
And “happyness” happens, for him and his son.
_________________
 

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

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