The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
The Pursuit of Entertaining Realism
You got a dream... You gotta protect it. People can't do somethin' themselves, they wanna tell you you can't do it. If you want somethin', go get it. Period. - Chris Gardner
When Chris Gardner's wife leaves him and their young son, due to the stress of never having enough money, he has to quickly adjust to being a single parent. But without a single cent in his pocket, he soon finds that he can no longer provide a roof over their heads and they are forced to walk the streets looking for shelter amongst the hundreds of other homeless people. With his only chance of providing a roof for the two of them coming from a non paying trainee position in a prestigious financial institution, he has to work all the hours in the hope he will be picked at the end of it for a full time position, whilst trying to provide food and shelter by what ever means possible.
It's not very often these days that I see a trailer for a film which manages to grab my attention so much that not only do I want to see the film but I also want to hear what everyone else has to say on it. The film in question, being "The Pursuit of Happyness", which seems to have had reasonably rave reviews from critics and fans alike, with many saying that this is Will Smith's big chance of winning an Oscar. Whilst having this knowledge I was a little wary that maybe it would not live up to the hype, I can honestly say this is one of the best films I have been to the cinema to see in many a year, so much so that it surpasses the hype.
Based on the true story of Chris Gardner, a man who hit rock bottom when his wife left him and had no money to provide a room for himself or more importantly his 5 year old son. This film could easily be summed up by some as yet another rags-to-riches, feel good story, and whilst they would not be wrong to label it as such, there is so much more to this film which manages to mix entertainment with realism in an engrossing manner. We have the wonderful father - son relationship, which is a massively strong element, and also the deteriorating relationship between Chris and his wife.
But whilst all these stories merge together to make an entertaining and engaging drama it is the stark realism of the situation which really hits home to the viewer. Whilst some movies would gloss over the rougher elements of a story which features the issues of homelessness and single parenting, "The Pursuit of Happyness" does not shy away from this, actually capitalising on the feelings of Chris as he has no money in his pocket to provide a roof other their heads. Such scenes where we see Chris shout at his son, reducing him to tears, whilst they rush to catch a bus, just so that they can be near the front of the queue at the homeless centre, is not only realistic but moving in the fact that you can feel the hurt that Chris is feeling afterwards. But the most moving scene is one which encapsulates both despair and fear, when we see Chris forced to seek shelter in a train station toilet for the night, as there was no where else for him or his son to sleep. The sheer emotion of Will Smith's portrayal in this scene let alone the whole film is worthy of an Oscar and really hits home the despair and fear that this man was facing.
Of course it is not all heavy realism and there are some brilliant lighter moments which come about due to the innocence of his son's young mind. In fact the scene leading up to the two of them sleeping rough in the toilets is just one as the young Christopher imagines escaping dinosaurs with his father and that they need to seek shelter in a cave, which leads them nicely to the toilet scene. In fact the young Christopher played brilliantly by Will Smith's own son near enough steal the show from under the nose of his own father. But it is not just the young Christopher who brings the light hearted ness to the movie, and whilst the climax of the film is a predictable button pusher which effectively draws the desired emotions from the audience, there are numerous other scenes which manage to entertain you. Such as when Chris turns up for an interview for a position as a trainee bond sales man still dressed in his decorating gear having been forced to spend a night in prison for not paying parking tickets. It is the realism whilst light hearted ness of scenes such as this which manage to make this film so entertaining.
Although the film maybe a little patriotic with the title of the film coming from one of America's most important documents and the quite blatant use of the American National Flag in quite a few scenes. This is not necessary a bad thing and I don't see why people have criticised the film for being patriotic and proud of their heritage. Plus whilst some critics have picked up on the element that the films suggests that Chris's pursuit was not merely about happiness but more about wealth, as he worked towards a high paid job at a bonds firm. I feel that many critics have missed the films true meaning, that whilst Chris could easily have got a lesser paid job and still been able to be financially secure, it was the happiness he sought from a job that would see him use his full potential rather than one which would pay the bills but leave him sad and bored. Which ever way you read the motives behind the film, it is an amazingly powerful story which not only entertains but also educates you on the stark realism of being poor. What is also quite surprising is that the film steers away from the stereotypical racial issues that many films which focus strongly on a black American seem to dwell upon. To be honest this made for a refreshing change and took it away from being overly predictable.
As already mentioned some people have touted this as Will Smith's big chance for an Oscar, and they are not wrong, as it is his finest performance since the brilliant "Ali". Whilst some people may be uncomfortable watching Will Smith in a serious role, having got used to him in both comedies and action flicks, he brings to this film a class abut his performance which is easily comparable to the likes of Denzel Washington and Samuel L. Jackson. For the majority of the film you forget you are watching Will Smith as his performance is so good that you can not help but be drawn to his character. But whilst Will Smith may have been the big name star of the film, it is the performance of his son, Jaden Smith, which makes the film so believable. Quite simply put, young Jaden does not try and act, he just does what any young child would do, whether it is the simplest dance when he gets a present or the tears when he loses a toy, which makes his performance as fine as his fathers. Although the film is filled with brilliant performances from all the supporting cast, and not a single one of them lets the film down, the real stars are Will Smith and his son Jaden.
Although the director has gone for some obvious button pushing scenes which will needless to say have the desired emotional effect on the audience and an overly soft, autumnal palette. It is their grip on the stark reality of the situation which should be commended, as not once did I feel that they copped out from a scene where the stark reality of the situation would possibly weigh heavy on the audiences conscience. Plus, the fact that they managed to mix the lighter side of the film without detracting from the realism is quite a remarkable feat. My only criticism comes from the occasional narrative which is used to describe the part of Chris's life with narration such as "This is what I called the running element of my life". Whilst these do not really detract from the film, they do seem a little out of place.
As I stated at the beginning, this is one of the best films I have seen at the cinema for many a year and whilst the originality of the story line, although based on a true story, may seem like a typical rags-to-riches, it is the journey that it takes you on which is so exceptional. The fact that it manages to mix realism with entertainment without detracting from the situation is absolutely brilliant. Plus the remarkable performances of Will Smith and his young son Jaden, just cap off what is an all round brilliant movie. Although fans of Will Smith's lighter movies may feel disappointed that this film is step away from his usual stuff, I feel it is a film which may just win him a handful of accolades and deservedly so. Did the film leave me feeling Happy, most definitely so, having entertained and enthralled me for its entire 117 minutes with a terrific plot and exceptional acting, I left the cinema feeling completely satisfied having seen what I feel is one of the best movies of the last few year.
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