There was a time in America — long before my time or the time of my parents — when most Americans worked hard, overcame great obstacles, and drove themselves toward a small ideal known as the pursuit of happiness. It was known as the American Dream, or at least it was the path to get there. But since then much has changed about America. Now instead of overcoming our own personal obstacles and living the American Dream, we would much rather watch it all happen to someone else by way of the silver screen.
We would much rather watch stories like that of Chris Gardner, a struggling bone density scanner salesman who lived with his young son on the streets of San Francisco for months as he pursued a career as a stockbroker. Gardner’s story is a perfect example of determination and will – the unrelenting need to move forward toward making things better for himself and his son. It is a wonderful tale that embodies the spirit of those generations of the past. Unfortunately, translated into film as The Pursuit of Happyness starring Will Smith, the story loses its flair thanks to a poorly-illustrated narrative that seems a bit “runny”.
Smith, who plays Gardner, co-stars for the first time ever with his young son Jaden, instantly giving authenticity to the on screen father-son relationship that is so important to the story. Jaden almost steals the show from Dad, playing cute and curious like he’s been taking notes from Dakota Fanning. Daddy Will also delivers a strong performance. He bears an uncanny likeness to the real Chris Gardner, upon whose book the film is based, and his delivery during the most disheartening moments of the film is spot on.
And it is those moments that define most of the film, leaving it a mostly depressing mess of jumbled story lines and character over development – something that can happen in the transfer from book to screen. The film takes what seems like forever to get to any signs of hope for Chris Gardner, losing the attention of the audience along the way.
Whether it is due to poor pacing by the film’s director or a lackluster adaption of the original material, this film moves agonizingly slowly. The only thing moving fast is Will Smith – literally. Sometimes he is late for a job interview and others he is chasing down hippies who have stolen one of his bone density scanners, his only source of income, but he always seems to be sprinting through the streets of San Francisco – it unfortunately is one of the most entertaining parts of the film.
What will ultimately save the film in the eyes of the mainstream audience is the fact that Will Smith and his son are as good together on screen as they probably are off screen. Their relationship glows in an otherwise dark environment, leaving something to enjoy for audiences. If you can get past the depressing nature of this film and the overabundance of Will Smith athleticism, then you may want to give The Pursuit of Happyness a chance. Otherwise, I would recommend doing what I did – buy the book instead.
Release Date: December 8, 2006