Directed by: Gabriele Muccino
Premise: A down on his luck salesman (Will Smith) tries to turn his life around by enrolling in an internship program. At the same time he struggles to maintain a home and provide for his son (Jaden Christopher Syre Smith).
What Works: The Pursuit of Happyness is a fine film that has some great performances. Will Smith does his best work when he jettisons the Fresh Prince persona, and this film allows him to do that. The Pursuit of Happyness is one of Will Smith’s best performances since Ali. He is able to convey a wide variety of emotions and carries the picture in ways that he hasn’t in other performances. The relationship between Smith’s character and his son (played by Smith’s real life son) has a lot of authenticity to it and makes the child a character rather than an accessory and avoids the clichéd relationship in which the parent learns life lessons from the child. Although the film follows the Horatio Alger formula, The Pursuit of Happyness is more responsible in how it conveys the American Dream. The film promotes the traditional themes of hard work, fortitude, and independence but also makes it clear that individuals cannot go it alone and the film makes a strong but subtle argument for the importance of social welfare for those trying to make ends meet. The plotline makes it clear that success is partially dependent on the willingness of those in positions of power to extend a hand.
What Doesn’t: The characters in the film are thinly drawn. Smith’s character has no past and his relationship with his wife goes from bad to worse with little gradation.
Bottom Line: The Pursuit of Happyness is a great story that is well executed. Despite being formulaic and rather predictable, the film’s performances are very strong and the plot has enough twists and complications that raise it above similar stories.
Episode: #124 (December 31, 2006)