The Pursuit of Happyness

Distributed by SONY Pictures
Running Time: 117 minutes
Rated PG-13 for some language

by Jon Minners

In the feel good time of the year, one need not look any further than the film, The Pursuit of Happyness.

The name says it all.  The Pursuit of Happyness is a film that will tug at your heart strings and leave you with a tear in your eye and a smile on your face. 

In this tale, inspired by a true story and set in the early 1980's of San Francisco, Will Smith plays Chris Gardner, a struggling salesman who blew his family's life savings away on futuristic bone-density scanners.  The complicated devices could have meant riches, but doctors just were not ready for such technological advancements, and those same money-making devices end up leaving Gardner homeless on the street. 

But before that happens, Gardner's wife, tired of the optimism her husband still has, leaves behind her family and allows him and her son to fend for themselves in San Francisco while she follows her heart to a job at a restaurant in New York City

The theme of the movie then plays out in one poignant scene as Gardner and his son live life on their own and play a little basketball in a park.  Gardner crushes his son's dream of making it to the NBA, by telling him how poorly he would do since Gardner himself never amounted to anything on the court.  However, realizing he is wrong, he tells his son, masterfully played by Smith's own son, to "Never let anyone tell you that you can't do something...not even me."  The pursuit of happiness means to follow your dreams. 

And Gardner has a dream of his own.  Taking a major chance, Gardner continues to sell all the scanners he can just to get by, but also goes through a training program at Dean Witter that will not pay him a dime unless he is the lucky one chosen for the job.  When a previous year's applicant scored a 96% on a test and wasn't chosen, Gardner's chances seem slim. 

And while the viewer knows that there is a light at the end of the tunnel (Gardner is a multi-millionaire), the characters do a great job of suspending our belief and creating a dark undertone of nothingness that permeates the movie.  Viewers see Gardner and son suffer one indignity after another; from being kicked out of a motel room to being forced to line up at a homeless shelter each day to being forced to sleep in a bathroom at a train station; all while Gardner follows his heart and asks his son to believe in him when the mother could not. 

Viewers can sense the true horror of it all through Will Smith's eyes as he cries while his son sleeps and someone bangs on the bathroom door repeatedly trying to get in.  Having his real life son acting alongside him probably helped a lot, but it could have also been a hindrance.  Will Smith's son was unproven talent; at least until he proved himself in this film.  I guess acting ability does run in the family. 

It's Will Smith's acting that puts the entire situation in perspective.  Smith has to play a loving father who must maintain a positive and confident attitude the entire time and still show disappointment, fear and anger, as he goes against his own beliefs at times to do everything in his power so that he and his son can survive the ordeal they are in.

It is because of such a wonderful job he displays at showcasing a plethora of emotions in this film that viewers see Smith in a new light.  Will Smith is no longer the Fresh Prince, the rapper or the sitcom star.  Will Smith is no longer the wisecracking actor in Bad Boys, Independence Day or Men in BlackWill Smith is not Hitch. He is not the actor who has potential as he displayed in the Legend of Bagger Vance or Ali.  With the Pursuit of Happyness, Will Smith is an Oscar winner.  I cannot see anyone more deserving of the prize. 

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