PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS: Cute tyke
THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS (biodrama)
Cast: Will Smith, Thandie Newton and Jaden Christopher Syre Smith
Director: Gabriele Muccino
Time: 115 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)
PREAMBLE: The American Declaration of Independence of 1776 states that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness". This forms the basis of the so-called 'American Dream' which most immigrants seek – and the theme of this rags-to-riches story of Chris Gardner.
The one thing about "The Pursuit of Happyness" (its title deliberately misspelt to reflect a graffiti at the San Francisco daycare centre in which Gardner's son was left in) is that it does not set out to be a 'great' or creatively stylish movie. Right from the start, where Gardner (played by Will Smith) narrates the stages of his life, we get the feeling that this is an ordinary movie about an 'ordinary' husband and father doing his best not just to provide for his family but to get the best for them. And it is this 'ornery-ness' that makes us root for Gardner and his pursuit of wealth.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT? Set in the early 80s, the opening shows Gardner as a struggling salesman of an expensive thingamajig known as a 'bone-density scanner'. In the vain hope that he would make it big, Gardner has invested all his savings in that device which actually does the work of an x-ray machine – at many times the cost. Naturally, his business suffers and it takes a toll on his marriage. His wife, Linda (Thandie Newton), is tired of listening to his wild schemes and promises; and his five-year-old son, Christopher (Jaden Christopher Syre Smith) gets caught in between their squabbles.
A chance encounter with a successful stockbroker sets Chris on to his dream of a luxurious life and even lands him an unpaid internship at a prestigious brokerage firm. However, with no means of financial support for his family, Linda soon leaves him -- and Chris is left with the problem of juggling his training at the firm, his sales and taking care of his son. Things get worse when he is kicked out of his rented apartment. Since Chris does not want to be separated from his son, they have to live on the streets, sleeping in restrooms and charity homes.
BOUQUETS & BRICKBATS: Gardner's ‘pursuit’ – which is actually more of a gamble – may seem reckless and foolish but it is inspiring simply because he dares to dream and is doggedly determined to fulfil it. Of course, he has the love of his son to spur him on and this gives the movie its emotional depth. Like his Oscar-nominated rendition of the famous boxer in "Ali", Smith gives a sympathetic portrayal of Gardner, complete with his usual wide smiles and street smarts. Most of the time, he has us empathising with him. However, the show-stealer is his real-life son Jaden who tugs at our heartstrings with his tone and lines.
He displays real chemistry with Smith and mothers in the audience are bound to be moved by the performance of this curly-haired tyke. As such, remember to bring along extra handkerchiefs or tissue paper. Newton’s role as Linda gets the short shrift – but she is not the villain here. Caught in such circumstances, we sympathise with her too.
Director Muccino, who is making his English language feature debut here, takes care of little details like Gardner’s mastery of the Rubik’s Cube (which was the rage in the 80s), and Gardner’s trysts with a cab-driver. This helps to push the footage to more than two hours without forcing us to look at our watch. The ending, however, seems rather hasty – with Gardner’s success documented in a footnote at the closing credits.
THE LOWDOWN: Reminiscent of "Kramer Vs Kramer", this one should work well with Malaysian audiences too.