Sunday, December 17, 2006

My Take - The Pursuit of Happyness - starring Will and Jaden Smith

A Movie Mini-Review
By: A. L. “Toni” Anderson

The Pursuit of Happyness (2006) is the new motion picture drama inspired by the true story of Chris Gardner (now a millionaire stockbroker and philanthropist), who once slept with his small son on the restroom floor of a BART station. The film is directed by Roman director Gabriele Muccino and is written by Steve Conrad, brother of actor Chris Conrad (Criminal Minds). The book upon which the film is based is written by Chris Gardner and poet Quincy Troupe.

The film’s title is taken from a sign at the daycare of Chris’ son, Christopher. Apparently, the owners are unaware that the word “happiness” is spelled with an “i”; throughout the film, this mistake is pointed out to them by Chris, but his complaints fall on intentionally deaf ears.

The true story of the life of Chris Gardner is a remarkable one—one of childhood abuse by an obtuse and evil stepfather. It is a heartbreaking story of a little boy whose favorite uncle dies at a young age, and of a child who never meets his biological father until the age of 28. It is a story of a young man who overcomes poverty and hard luck and instability to become Father of the Year, and ultimately through perseverance, a renowned humanitarian and motivational speaker.

Former rapper Will Smith (Hitch - 2005) stars as Chris Gardner. Will’s son, Jaden, costars as Chris Gardner’s young son. The chemistry between father and son is unmistakable in the film, but Will’s growth as an actor is not apparent here. He seems somehow more at home as a comedian. Chris’s girlfriend (whose name in the film is Linda), is Thandie Newton (Crash - 2004). Although certainly Ms. Newton is a fine actress, in this film, something in her facial expressions and voice is reminiscent of the title character in her 1998 film Beloved. Perhaps the direction given in the film is a bit off center.

The film is okay, as far as it goes. I made the mistake, however, of reading the book immediately prior to seeing the film. The first thing that I noticed was that the film begins in the middle of the book. All of Chris’s early life, and the experiences that made him what he is, are gone. The second thing is that, of the parts of the book that appear in the film, many are embellished or otherwise modified. Some things are pointed out repeatedly, as if we are all idiots. There are several inconsistencies, and people who are critical to Chris’s life in the book (as well as allegations of domestic violence) are left completely out of the film.

The Pursuit of Happyness is number one at the box office this week and I cannot argue with that, but I have to believe it is more the result of good promotion than of good filmmaking. See it if you must; just don’t read the book first. [RT 1:57]

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[© 12/17/2006]


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