Archive for the ‘Pursuit of Happyness’ Category

316 – The Pursuit of Happyness

May 23, 2007

There are undoubtedly two camps of people who watched this film: those who start to tear up at the very hint of a Very Special Movie, and those who rely a little on logic and, I dunno, sense; those who, that is, want the movie to work a little to earn tears, not the other way around.

Guess which group I’m in.

Chis Gardner (Will Smith) is a salesman of sorts – he sells scanners to medical professionals that are supposed to be more detailed than x-ray machines, and much more expensive. He bought a whole bunch of them years ago and has been selling them to doctors and hospitals ever since, only sales have stagnated somewhat, and he’s struggling bigtime. Now, me, in this situation, might, perhaps, get another job, one that paid something, anything to keep food on the table for my wife (Thandie Newton) and son (Jaden Smith).

But Chris isn’t like me. Instead, after bumping into a rich-looking white dude, he decides he wants to be a stockbroker and applies (after many contrivances) for an internship at Dean Witter. Only, oops! It’s not a paying internship! But Chris doesn’t know that, and neither does wife Linda, who works double shifts at a hospital. Are you seeing the picture here? The mother works her hands to the bone, the dad is a shiftless loser who can’t sell crappy scanners that no one needs, and what’s the wise papa do? Why, chases a dream. Because if there’s any time that’s just made for chasing dreams, it’s when you have a wife and kids and are a couple months behind in your rent and haven’t paid your taxes yet for the year.

Naturally, after Chris makes this decision and when the scanner sales slow down even more, Linda has enough and bolts for some nebulous waitressing job on the other side of the country. Up until this point, she was eassily the stronger, more viable, and more responsible of the parents. But then we wouldn’t get this touching plot of a father bonding with his son, so out goes Linda. (Yes, I know this is based on a true story, but I imagine some of these plot devices are fictions from the screenwriter.)

Speaking of plot devices, as Chris blows off landlord after landlord, he and young Christopher are kicked out of their home, and then a motel, and they sleep on buses, in bathrooms, anywhere. This is supposed to show how Chris will suffer for his son, that he loves him so much and is trying so hard to make his life better. The trouble is, nearly all of Chris’s problems were caused by… you guessed it, Chris himself. We can all relate, I’m sure, to The Man keeping us down; we struggle and make a little progress, only to be pushed back down by creditors, Johnny Law, our bosses, and so on. Sometimes fate does conspire against us. But it didn’t feel like that was wholly the case here. Chris is outraged to get a notice from the IRS placing a lien on his bank account. Why is he outraged? Linda even reminded him to take care of the taxes, and Chris actively said he’d just keep filing extensions. This is no one’s fault but Chris Gardner’s.

The trouble is, you really want to feel for Chris. He knows that if he works hard and is fortunate, he can emerge from the unpaid internship with a paid job as a broker at Dean Witter. A great goal to have, of course. It just seems strange that he felt that the most viable option to him was to work as a stockbroker. He couldn’t take a menial job or two to scrape up enough money to pay taxes or, heck, rent a room? God forbid. In a telling scene, Chris explodes outside a mission that had just announced it had no more room. I’m paraphrasing, but as Chris argued with a man who’d cut in front of him in line (thus denying him entrance to the mission), he mentions that he had to run from his job to get to the line in time. Whoa, wait, hold up a sec there, Chris. You’re in a line of homeless people. You might not wanna mention that you have a JOB. Most of the rest of these folks, you see, don’t have a job. That is why they are homeless. You came off as a major jerk. Again, not someone worthy of our pity.

So who is? Christopher, the young’un, surely is. What’s he done to deserve this crappy parenting? His mom basically abandons him with no fight at all, and his dad chooses a tenuous unpaid job over a paycheck. Jaden Smith was critically lauded for his wonderful work here, and he was much more deserving of an Oscar nomination than his old man, who seemed to be praised merely for not playing Will Smith. At least we didn’t get yet another rendition of Smith’s “Oh, HELL no!” exclamations. But the kid was very good, and adorable to boot.

The rest of the cast isn’t onscreen enough to make much of an impression; they’re all just window dressing to the relationship between father and son. James Karen is unintentionally amusing as the Great White Father to Smith’s broker, needlessly upping the smarm factor. Because, you know, brokerage firms never seem to have enough smarm.

All in all, a disappointment unless you just treat it as a low-grade TV movie about someone persevering against long odds, cheerfully ignoring the fact that those odd were made long by that same person. Bear in mind, though, that the movie is merely based on a true story, that many liberties were taken to accentuate the supposed struggles of Chris and Christopher.