Anthony's Film Review
The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
The rags-to-riches concept is nothing new, but the casting choice for lead actor is its strongest point...
If Will Smith were not the star of The Pursuit of Happyness (the misspelling is intentional), I don't think the film would be the same. You can have an actor with an impressive number of Academy Awards earned or an actor who has power with the box-office gross, but I think the best kind of actor for a role is one who can relate to it well. Christopher Gardner, the main character of the film, is both a man struggling to move up in America and also a loving father. Will Smith is also someone who struggled to get to where he is now, a journey from Philadelphia into Hollywood with rap music, a hit TV sitcom, and movie roles. And he's certainly a family man from what I know of him. With all of this, he's a natural choice for the principal role.
The themes of this film are clear just from knowing what it's about. They are nothing more than the themes well exemplified by the 19th-century American writer Horatio Alger, Jr.: achieving the American dream through hard work, courage, and determination. Many people may not have heard about Alger, but the pursuit of happiness is something just about all of us understand through experience. Our families, both living members as well as our ancestors, have endured some kind of struggle and sacrifice to better the lives of themselves and their children. Many of us are doing the same for the next generation after us. Whether you are an immigrant or born into America's working class, this is something we can all relate to.
This rags-to-riches story takes place in San Francisco, 1981. Chris Gardner lives in an apartment with a wife and 5-year-old son, also named Chris. While she works in laundry, Gardner earns his income with a risky profession: selling portable bone density scanners to doctors. Any salesman pitching products that are hard to sell because potential clients see them as useless face a great deal of stress when their sales are poor. For Gardner, selling one scanner could pay for rent and food for a month, but it's no good when there is no sale. That is when things begin to spiral downhill.
While Gardner does fill out an application for an internship at a stock brokerage firm, the training program enrolls only twenty interns, trains them for six months, and picks only one to hire for a full-time paid position. It's not a quick fix for his problems, but it's his only one. Meanwhile, he still has to deal with eviction from his apartment, parking tickets, and moments where major consequences could ensue if little but seemingly important chances to reach his goal aren't taken (e.g., being asked by the trainer to fetch some coffee). Then there's the bone scanners. He carries one around like businessman would with a briefcase, because selling just one could make a huge difference for him.
All of this occurs with his son Chris by his side. When Gardner's wife leaves him, they fight over who gets custody of Chris, and despite the fact that he's the one with more financial insecurity, he takes care of Chris out of fatherly love. Someone told me that the real Gardner did this out of not wanting to do what his father did. If it's true, then I think it's an admirable decision. In any event, it's not just Will Smith as Gardner who brings power to the film. It's also Jaden Smith, one of Will's real-life children, as little Chris who does the same. He does it with a genuine performance as an innocent child having no choice but to watch his father's struggle. The two actors already being in the same family really helps.
Overall, the film is a pretty good one. If you do see it, look out for the scene on top of a hill in San Francisco. The real Christopher Gardner walks by, as both a thanks to Will Smith for portraying him and as an inspiration for us all to strive long and hard like he did.
For more information about The Pursuit of Happyness, visit the Internet Movie Database.