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Overall Rating

Awesome: 16.95%
Worth A Look35.59%
Average: 22.03%
Pretty Bad: 13.56%
Total Crap: 11.86%

5 reviews, 29 user ratings

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Pursuit of Happyness, The
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Erik Childress

"Telling Comic Relief To Suck One"
2 stars

Any time spent in America comes down to a basic perception about our surroundings and those outside of those boundaries. It’s also the perception that comes with timing and a public’s awareness of what they should pay attention to. For example, if Cuba Gooding Jr. had starred in this movie instead of Will Smith, it would be forgotten about and likely snickered at before any screening could confirm or deny our suspicions. On the other hand, if it was Gooding right after Jerry Maguire instead of after Chill Factor, Snow Dogs and Boat Trip, we may have given it the benefit of the doubt. But it is Smith, probably referred to as the most “clean” and “wholesome” black man in America since the days of The Cosby Show. And its back to the 80s we go when rags-to-riches was a popular axiom of the Reagan years for the story of a man who did just that and is now being told 25 years later when movies-of-the-week are no longer an event but a punchline that keeps them where they belong.

This is the part of the review I call “the plot synopsis.” In 1981, Chris Gardner (Will Smith) had invested his family’s savings in selling portable bone-density scanners to doctors and hospitals. He soon discovered that most would have no use for this “luxury” and with a son (Jaden Smith, Will’s real son) to care for, his wife (Thandie Newton, contorting her angry face in more positions than her role in Beloved) would have to work multiple shifts to keep them afloat. One day he crosses paths with the nicest man ever to own a fancy red sports car. Friendly banter reveals this man to be a stockbroker, a profession whose only two qualifications are told to being good with numbers and people; or the same qualifications for a game show host. Chris is quite the braggart in his narration to us, telling us how great he was in school and how smart he can be when he was given the chance. Little did he know that the invention of the Rubik’s Cube would be the major catalyst in his life.

Having applied for an internship with Dean Witter (a position he was unaware would come without pay, but apparently in reality paid $1,000 a month), he impresses one of the program’s handlers with his expert-level solving of the puzzle and gets an interview. Meanwhile, his wife leaves him, he’s being evicted and getting arrested for unpaid parking tickets; a position which forces him to show up undressed, sweating and covered in paint. (For such a smart guy, it never dawns on him while he’s waiting to use the restroom sink.) Nevertheless, he wins them over with a combination of honesty, sincerity and a quick quip, giving Chris the opportunity to work his way towards a better life for him and his son.

This is the part of the review I call “the wrong.” Gardner’s story even in anecdote form is the stuff of underdog legends, but the film version is so obsessed with selling his struggle that one scene after another is some other hardship, injury, mistreatment or ill-timed distraction leading to misfortune. While it doesn’t quite reach a level of unintentional yuks, the hard luck rotation wouldn’t surprise us if he stepped in a puddle, fell on a rake and had a piano fall on his head after getting raped by a rabid rhinoceros. And after everything he’s been through, the film allows itself a payoff of such miniscule consequence that it may as well have just ended on a freeze frame with a title card explaining his success (although it does that too.) How ‘bout an epilogue of Gardner standing in front of a new home with his son or buying him the Captain America doll that he lost while the boy looked upon his dad as the real hero? Hell, go to a nice restaurant, hook up with a white chick, just do something to satisfy those eager to applaud Gardner’s efforts.

Maybe director Gabriele Muccino and screenwriter Steven Conrad purposely avoided glorifying any sort of gaudy excess of Gardner in the end considering there are more insert shots of homeless people than a Comic Relief concert. But the film carries such a middling attitude about them that its hard to believe they would now choose to be respectful and not rub Gardner’s work ethic in their panhandling faces. Other than the opening credits, the homeless are portrayed as linecutting, time travel-obsessed loons that are below the time-of-day set to Gardner’s watch (in real life he now wears two) especially when he becomes one of them. Perception again plays a role as we’re supposed to be on Gardner’s side as he jumps fare from a cab or flees after mangling a guy’s windshield, but expected to look unfavorably to the hotel manager who keeps asking for his money or the bud who owes Chris fourteen bucks.

This is the part of the review I call “the Bateman.” Further demonstrating its made-for-TV feel, it completely ignores all attempts at taking stabs at the various themes of greed and white power that cry out from the financial districts of the 80s. I’ve never in favor of using stereotypes to combat stereotypes, particularly when holding the Race Card – but the obviousness of Gardner being the only black man in a white man’s world stands out like a lesion on an albino. A shot of a bunch of young people cavorting like hyenas in a convertible is the most ridiculous bit of point-driving in a film that is convinced of its own thematic insinuations. There’s an implied racism as the program’s teacher (Dan Castellaneta) keeps impeding Gardner with menial tasks like getting him coffee and parking his car (and a real crappy one compared to what the Ferrari represented earlier), but I would have jumped to action under the circumstances, too. I understand the drive to show Gardner’s dedication, but what he’s doing it all for gets lost in the process. The relationship with his son has a moment here and there, but without the payoff or the connection between their trip to a 49ers skybox and his desire to capture this for his son someday (absolutely no joy is displayed from the boy in this scene), all we’re left with is the make it through a film without the benefit of commercial interruptions to rethink our choice.

This is the part of the review I call “the conclusion.” Will Smith is just fine in the role of Gardner. Fine, not Oscar-worthy as he’s being touted, in a film that’s just kinda there. (There are two shots of a DeNiro/Raging Bull ad that’s about as subtle as Gardner falling onto a golden statuette.) If Oscar voters miss the first breakdown, not to worry cause there’s a second one coming, both handled with fine restraint from Smith to contrast the marathon challenge he’s been presented with. No exaggeration necessary in saying that Smith runs more than Atanarjuat here. But it’s the screenplay that falters at the finish line, the stretch run and the quarter pole. Conrad, who wrote last year’s criminally underappreciated The Weather Man, has designed this script so delicately as to not challenge anyone with the implications of Gardner’s journey that it seriously could have been rated “G” if not for the F-word written on the wall and later spoken by the boy. Scientists will someday discover this screenplay is so benign it could probably be used to battle tumors, just not the Oprah crowd that it’s going to be ragingly sold to, even if they continue to walk past the bucket drummers and bundled up hands outstretched on the streets of Chicago.

link directly to this review at
originally posted: 12/15/06 16:20:00
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User Comments

5/21/10 fartvenugen trite, cliche and a horrible last 30 minutes. 2 stars
1/13/09 Anonymous. will smith's best film & great uplifting story :] 4 stars
7/04/08 Ry Good Move, many should watch and understand you have to work hard to make it.. 4 stars
3/04/08 MP Bartley Wow, he sure did work a lot... 3 stars
2/04/08 Advantus Very touching. Sad and rewarding. 4 stars
12/19/07 Pamela White it shows you can be down but never out if you keep trying 5 stars
9/30/07 Monday Morning Can't anybody edit for time anymore? Good flick but WAY too long! 3 stars
9/27/07 Ashwath Amazin movie and a great performance by Will smith.Totally liked it. 5 stars
6/01/07 ES I wouldn't wish the hell Chris and his son went through on my worst enemy. 4 stars
5/30/07 M It was not about "happyness" it was about money... I cried a few times but overall it stank 3 stars
4/28/07 Dark Enchantress it was ok, the parts that i saw 4 stars
4/12/07 the wizz would've liked to see the good times on screen rather than a couple of paragrahs. 3 stars
4/07/07 Ryan Loved the movie. This reviewer is an idiot though. 5 stars
2/28/07 Beau has the same analytic engaging power of virgin suicides and american beauty! great acting 4 stars
2/25/07 Kevin Arnold Was touching my heart deeply! 5 stars
1/22/07 Tina V I wouldn't even rent this movie! It was way too depressing. 1 stars
1/14/07 Tanya I really enjoyed it Smith is always growing with each film 5 stars
1/12/07 AJ zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz did the movie start 5 stars
1/11/07 Keisha Great movie. Inspirational and a good performance by Smith 5 stars
1/07/07 JoAN very emotional, cried through the whole movie, excellent acting and rapport with father and 5 stars
1/03/07 Bert Kaplan disaster after disaster after disaster-no fun to watch 2 stars
12/29/06 Suzz a good film within its genre; fine performances from dad and son 4 stars
12/27/06 Mike Great performances by Smith & son 4 stars
12/27/06 v "HOOK UP WITH A WHITE CHICK?" are you KIIDDING ME? 5 stars
12/21/06 r.s. wow, I'm not really sure what made that reviewer so upset. 3 stars
12/18/06 Rich Smith is great. A sit back and enjoy flick. Don't over analyze and you'll walk away happy. 4 stars
12/17/06 wizardofroz very good acting, very boring, woe is me script. 3 stars
12/17/06 Jamie I loved it. I thought it was going to be stupid but was pleasantly surprised when I saw it. 5 stars
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  15-Dec-2006 (PG-13)
  DVD: 27-Mar-2007



Directed by
  Gabriele Muccino

Written by
  Steve Conrad

  Will Smith
  Thandie Newton
  Jaden Smith
  Kurt Fuller
  Dan Castellaneta
  James Karen

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