The Pursuit of Happyness
by Chris Gardner
"The Pursuit of Happyness"
This is the saddest Will Smith movie I've ever seen. In a turn as a modern Everyman going through the 7 rings of fire in the form of economic disaster and the consequences that flow from not being able to pay bills, the role challenges your ability to hang in with him until he can turn things around. The word, "obstacles" doesn't capture it. But the worser it gets the more you know how it'll come out at the end.
It's based on a 20/20 segment about a successful San Francisco stock broker who experienced poverty, debt, dashed hopes, a broken marriage and a flood of disappointment before he found the work he was destined for. And, this guy was an "A" student with a very strong aptitude for math. Director Gabriele Muccino directed from a script by Steven Conrad
When Chris Gardner (Smith) and Linda (Thandie Newton) got married, times were promising. They moved into a good apartment and invested in a stock of new medical machines -- scanners of bone density -- that they felt sure they could sell to hospitals and doctors interested in advanced technology. This would give them a handsome profit allowing Chris to capitalize on his gifts as a salesman.
Five years later they've still got around half their pile of scanners, a 5-year old son Christopher (Jaden Smith), and Linda is doing double shifts in low-paying jobs to make the rent and put some food on the table.
Not that Chris has been slacking off. In his handsome suits and business-like appearnace, he's a fixture on the streets and corridors, scanner in hand, plying the wards and medical offices of the city. In fact, he doesn't stop trying, but the cost versus the benefit equation of his machines make them a luxury buy for medical offices, and a tough sell. As the difficulties of moving them continues, stress is taking its toll in the marriage.
But, one thing that Chris is if he's anything is a father completely devoted to his son, taking not only an interest but full participation in his lovely little boy's life. When Linda finally caves, and leaves for a job in New York, Chris' insistence wins him custody of his boy, even as economic bad times go to worse. And, then, one day, firmly in the disaster column, he discovers stock brokering.
Using all his wiles and charms (and his ability to do the almost impossible task of solving a Rubik's Cube), he impresses Jay Twistle (Brian Howe), a manager at Dean Witter, he succeeds in being accepted in a competitive training program against tremendous odds. But, he has to face the fact that it's all unpaid until and unless he's hired by the firm, and this while being evicted twice for lack of rent, finding shelter for himself and his boy in a homeless shelter and in a train rest room when he can.
And, it gets worse.
If anyone can pull this off without having you claw your way to the lobby in relief, it's Smith... because this turns into not just a study in bad times, poor decisions and a desperation none of us should ever have to endure, but a story of a father's love, a relationship of father and son that does endure through all of it and gives the picture its meaning.
Little Jaden Smith comes at it with personality blazing. A joy to watch and a role very happily fulfilled. Newton has about the worst of the deal, having to be the bad person who loses all trace of patience with an overstrained situation. She earns no sympathy for her badgering of our hero. Brian Howe and James Karen are entirely appropriate choices for the bottom-line kind of executives who have little warm and smiley feelings for their applicants until one manages to stand out.
The quest for the commission dollar as a dehumanizing influence isn't dealt with except by peripheral reference. It is, after all, a slippery slope. The minute you venture into money as the brass ring of success you put a shadow on the hero's putting everything on the line to climb out of poverty. Ask anyone who's been hounded by a broker's telemarketing. But, that negative aspect aside, you get the impression, after the gauntlet of defeats that would diminish a lesser man, Chris Gardner as portrayed by Will Smith isn't destined to beecome a dehumanized money machine.
~~ Jules Brenner