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Will Smith's Strong, Urgent Performance Elevates this Reality-Based Tearjerker.
on June 9, 2007
"The Pursuit of Happyness" is an unabashed tearjerker about the American Dream and commitment to family in the face of great odds. It was inspired by the true story of Chris Gardner, who spent some time in the 1980s homeless while trying to care for his young son and make it through a stockbroker internship. The film is fictionalized but stays true to Gardner's struggle for success and dedication to his son. Gardner's autobiography, which goes by the same title, was actually published after the film was written. In San Francisco, 1981, Chris Gardner (Will Smith) can't make ends meet selling portable bone density scanners, while his embittered wife Linda (Thandie Newton) waitresses 2 shifts a day. Chris spies a man with an enviable sportscar on the street one day and asks him what he does for a living. He's a stockbroker. So Chris decides that's what he'll be. He must be at the top of his class after 6 months in Dean Witter's competitive internship program to be hired. Meanwhile, Chris has no wife, no money, no paying job, and a 5-year old son (Jaden Smith).
A story of hardship and hard work, paternal love and frustration, could easily be too saccharine for words. It's saved from this fate by Chris Gardner's desperation. Behind his indomitable pluck, Gardner is truly desperate. He has no money, no home, uncertain prospects, and the responsibility of providing for a young child. He hides his circumstances from his colleagues. He's spends an inordinate amount of energy chasing errant bone scanners around town. He compromises his ethics. His single-mindedness eventually takes a toll on his son. Chris is struggling for his life. And his financial problems are something the audience can understand and may themselves fear. That's why "The Pursuit of Happyness" works so well. Credit is due Will Smith's Oscar-nominated performance and Italian director Gabriele Muccino's understanding of intense emotions painted with small strokes.
The DVD (Sony 2007): There are 4 featurettes, the song "I Can" by Bebe Winans and Dave Koz (5 min, audio), and a feature commentary. "Making Pursuit: An Italian Take on the American Dream" (17 min) interviews Gabriele Muccino, Will Smith, and the producers about choosing Muccino to direct. Muccino talks about filming in San Francisco and working in English. "Father and Son: On Screen and Off" (7 min) recounts casting Jaden Smith after auditioning hundreds of other children, and Will Smith talks about working with his son. "The Man Behind the Movie: A Conversation with Chris Gardner" (12 min) interviews Gardner about his participation in the film, and Will Smith talks about learning from him. "Inside the Rubik's Cube" (6 min) is a fun short documentary on the persistent popularity of the Cube. There is a nice audio commentary by director Gabriele Muccino, in English. Muccino tells us how he got the job, discusses themes, recreating the 1980s, Will Smith's trust, locations, and some technical details. Subtitles are available for the film in English, French, Spanish. Dubbing available in French.