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Overall Rating
3.32

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
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Does For Inspirational Melodramas What It Does For Spell-Check"
1 stars

For all I know, the real-life Chris Gardner may be a perfectly wonderful, charming, modest and self-effacing guy–the kind you wouldn’t mind sitting around and kibitzing with for a while over a beer or two. Alas, the Chris Gardner that we are treated to in “The Pursuit of Happyness,” the big-screen adaptation of his memoir chronicling his journey from destitution and homelessness to making a million dollars on Wall Street in the 1980's before forming his own brokerage firm, may be described in many words but “charming,” “modest” and “self-effacing” are not among them. In fact, he comes across as so obnoxious, idiotic and off-putting that even though I knew the happy ending that was coming his way, I kept hoping and praying that the worm would turn and that he would finally be put in his place once and for all.

Right from the moment we meet Chris (Will Smith), he is telling us how smart and talented he is and what a devoted father he is to adorable young son Christopher (Jaden Smith, Will Smith real-life son). Somehow, his vaunted intelligence and peerless business skills led him into a job trying to push relatively useless bone density scanners that have put him hopelessly in debt while forcing his beleaguered wife (Thandie Newton) to work an endless string of double-shifts at a local hospital in a doomed effort to make ends meet while his son whiles away the day in a barely-legal day-care facility where the kids watch “Bonanza” and the word “happiness” is misspelled on the sign outside. One day, Chris comes across a man driving a deluxe car and admiringly asks what he does for a living. It turns out that the guy is a stockbroker and assures Chris that it is a job that anyone can do as long as they are good with numbers and good with people. Despite his evident lack of either skill, Chris decides that this is the job for him and announces to his wife that he plans to get into an internship program at a local brokerage that awards a job at the firm to the top intern. Alas, this is the last straw for the faithless missus and she leaves him for good.

After struggling mightily to get an appointment with the brokerage people to apply for the position (all I will say is that a Rubik’s Cube is involved–the film does take place in 1981, after all), Chris finally lands a meeting but the day before he is to see them, he is arrested for overdue parking tickets while painting his apartment and is released with only enough to haul his paint-spattered, T-shirt clad self over to the meeting where he charms the brass enough so that they don’t ask why he didn’t at least wash the paint off of his face. Amazingly, he gets one of the intern positions but only then realizes that, like most internships, it is unpaid. Nevertheless, he decides to follow through with his dream and insists on keeping sole custody of his son, even though his financial position is so precarious that the two bounce from a seedy motel to a homeless shelter and even the floor of a subway toilet. Somehow, Chris perseveres his way through the internship program and at the tear-stained finale, he is well on his way to becoming one of the few black men in American not named Bill Cosby to do well financially during the Reagan era.

Because it tells a story in which a character undergoes unimaginable hardships before a payoff filled with spiritual and financial redemption, I can understand why Gardner’s story resonated with those who read his memoir in a time where one author after another is appearing on Oprah’s couch to transform their tales of woe into cold cash. However, a story like this runs the risk of sliding from the nicely sentimental into outright mawkishness and the best way to play such material is to handle it with a light touch on the theory that the emotions will come off better if they aren’t being force-fed to us. Alas, director Gabrielle Muccino, whose obnoxious 2003 film “L’Ultimo Bacio” was the inspiration for the equally dreadful American remake “The Last Kiss,” is the kind of director for whom “subtlety” is not part of their working vocabulary and he approaches the material as if it were the heart-tugger equivalent of “Armageddon.”

Apparently unwilling to believe that some of us in the audience can feel emotions without any prodding, he milks every scene for maximum pathos in an effort to get a reaction and the sheer aggressiveness of this approach winds up working against the material. There are any number of melodramatic moments in the film–Chris is constantly losing the bone density machines that are his only tenuous source of income only to find and/or sell one right when the chips are down and a miracle is needed–and while these events may have happened in real life exactly as they are depicted here, they come across as hollow moments shoehorned into the plot in order to make sure that we are always feeling sorry for him and his plight. Of course, his lack of subtlety isn’t limited to the character of Chris–his wife is painted as such a one-note shrew that you keep waiting for a final scene in which she is slumped in the gutter as Chris and his son blast by in a new sports car laughing merrily.

You can easily understand why Will Smith would want to play the role of Chris Gardner–it is a role that allows him to weep, wail and suffer mightily until his final moment of triumph in a way that has “Oscar nomination” written all over it. There is nothing wrong with that but he is so aggressive in his efforts to pluck our heartstrings that even he begins to wear out his welcome after a while–if there are any remaining traces of the subtlety that he once brought to “Six Degrees of Separation” or his astonishing turn in “Ali,” they are nowhere to be seen here. He does have a nice on-screen rapport with his son but there is never any real sense of the desperation that the real-life Gardner must have felt from time to time–even in his darkest hours, you get the sense that he knows that he is in a feel-good film and that his time is coming.

Having said all this, I do realize that for many people, “The Pursuit of Happyness” will come across as a truly emotional experience and that anyone who doesn’t respond to it is a heartless churl. If such people can get some kind of uplift and inspiration from its brand of hard-sell sentiment, then all I can say is good for them. Myself, I only felt a sense of uplift and inspiration when the end credits began to roll because it meant that the whole painful ordeal, the very opposite of what I would describe as “happyness,” had finally come to a merciful end.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=15297&reviewer=389
originally posted: 12/15/06 15:58:49
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User Comments

2/04/11 MR SKEPTIC READ THE BOOK-HIS STRUGGLES IN R LIFE NOWHERE NEAR THE MOVIES PORTRAYAL 3 stars
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
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  15-Dec-2006 (PG-13)
  DVD: 27-Mar-2007

UK
  N/A

Australia
  11-Jan-2007


Directed by
  Gabriele Muccino

Written by
  Steve Conrad

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



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