THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

Directed by Gabriele Muccino. USA. 2006.


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Will Smith is that special sort of actor; a black African-American who has crossed into the white mainstream appeal unlike any other.  He has played inspirational figures (Muhammed Ali) who are world known, now he attempts to play inspirational again but of an unknown figure.  The film tells the story of Chris Gardner, a salesman in the 1980s, busy selling an osteopathic bone scanner that no-one wants.  But Chris is on hard times, the money is drying up and the initial joy of wedlock is evaporating  which ultimately leads to his wife leaving him, played by Thandie Newton.

Attempting to move on, Chris applies to an unpaid internship at Dean Witter in San Francisco.  A brokerage firm he has to struggle against having no income and raise his boy, living in shelters and being the one person in this class of 20 who will get the job.

I think of Smith as the black Tom Cruise; untouchable, magnetic and no matter how bad it gets things will come out good in the end.  But you have to wonder when the good or ‘happyness’ will arrive.  The first hour is the most depressing hour of film I can remember watching with Smith losing his wife, his focus and those scanners a lot of the time.  The film paints a bleak picture with lots of grim, grey colours in the photography (Phedon Papamichael) - the nadir being the moment when Smith and junior spend a night in the restroom.  Though set in the 1980s it easily could have been set in the present day, people wanting something for nothing and greed being this all powerful force in American capitalism.

The film though always comes to life when Smith is talking and interacting with people, this is Gardner’s gift and it is one Smith brings to the fore, allowing many doors to open for him during the internship.  As an attempt at an Oscar winner it is obvious, personal struggle with a child in tow does work.  But it had to be inspired by a true story, because no screenwriter would allow half the stuff to happen to a character they liked as it does here.

In years to come the film will be forgotten about and remembered as a film Smith gained a nomination for. Credit should go to Muccino, the Italian director, who in his first English-language feature crafts a film that maintains our interest and sticks with Smith on his pursuit.  Smith should be proud of his work, but overall the film is a hard watch for such a life-affirming tale of human spirit.
 

Jamie Garwood
 
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