Thursday, December 28, 2006

Review: The Pursuit of Happyness

Last week, I went to see The Pursuit of Happyness. I've been meaning to write a review, but just couldn't get it together. Heads up: ***If you don't want to know anything about the plot, please don't read this post. I'll try not to get to specific, but I can't write much of what I want without some details.***

First, foremost - Will Smith is absolutely superb. He is really an excellent actor. Don't underestimate him because of his Fresh Prince days, or if you don't go for light movie like Hitch or I, Robot. He is a gifted actor. I first saw him in a serious role when I had to watch Six Degrees of Separation for a class in college (a movie that is a must-see in my mind). Smith communicates so clearly every emotion and feeling - by the climax of the film tears were streaming down my face - and I really hate to cry at movies.

Smith has a pretty uniquely solid track record at the box office - most of his films open in first place, and he is one of those rare actors that seems to appear across the board to audiences - men, women, young, old, black, white. Did you know that Will Smith has the highest opening weekend average of any actor? I think he must feel pretty awesome about how consistently well-received he is, about how well-liked he is, because actors of color certainly still have a long battle before they are as frequently cast, well-paid, universally received, etc., as white actors. Smith seems to be a barrier-breaker.

Other stand-outs in the film are Thandie Newton, as Smith's wife - I've only seen her in a couple of things, and not been very impressed - but she seemed to really live into this character. And of course, Jaden Smith, Will Smith's son, was adorable, and it was fun to watch real-life father and son interact on screen.

About the movie itself, the story. The film is based on the real life story of Chris Gardner, a man who struggled to raise his son and keep it together financially while trying to secure a lucrative (and stable) job as a stock broker. The story is very moving at points - the hardships, the struggles of someone trying to make ends meet - this part of the film was very realistic. You could just feel the hopelessness of the situation, and the impossibility of ever getting ahead when one little financial crisis would turn into a huge crisis. If you've ever really had financial trouble, really had trouble, you know how true some of these scenarios are - how miscalculating your budget by $5 or $10 can totally screw you up for weeks afterward. I thought this message communicated pretty clearly. Also, pay special attention to Gardner's monologue about the title - the pursuit of happiness. He ponders, takes note that Jefferson never said that happiness was a right, just pursuing happiness, as if knowing that we have trouble ever actually getting to a state of happiness. Is happiness something we can only chase after?

More problematic for me was where the story ultimately goes. I'm afraid the film might communicate a message of "if you just try hard enough, you can be rich instead of poor" message. Gardner's story surely is inspiring, but it is also a 1 in a million story. Gardner works and works and works to provide for his family, but he doesn't just end up a stable, caring parent, he ends up a millionaire. Is that the ultimate goal in our pursuit of happiness?

You can read an article about the real life Chris Gardner here. I was glad to learn that he does pay quite a bit of attention still to helping those who are where he once was.

Still, problems aside, the film is worth seeing just to see Will Smith.
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