A review of “The Pursuit of
Happyness” by Jeanne Aufmuth
Rating: PG-13 for
hour, 57 minutes
gives a surprisingly rich performance as a suburban dreamer who refuses to say
“You got a
dream, you gotta protect it. If you want something, go get it. Period.” Words
of wisdom passed from struggling medical supply salesman Chris Gardner (Smith)
to his 5-year old son Christopher (real-life son Jaden Christopher Syre Smith).
The sentiment bears heavy meaning considering the hardships facing Gardner as a suddenly
single parent endeavoring to break off a piece of the American dream by
enrolling in a risky unpaid internship program with high-profile stockbroker
San Francisco circa 1981 is a city ripe with
potential if you know how to work it. And Gardner
works like a madman to protect his boy and pull himself out of a perpetual hole.
When it gets as hard-luck as it can – a dissatisfied wife (Thandie Newton) who
abandons father and son, faulty bone-density scanners that won’t sell, no rent
for the apartment and the IRS nipping at his heels – Gardner somehow reaches into
untapped reserves of tenacity and courage.
You betcha. And based on the real-life struggles of self-made gazillionaire
Chris Gardner. But darker than Smith’s standard fare, sidestepping easy comedy
in favor of a jaggedly desperate narrative that makes you work for its climax
if not its message. The despair runs deep, a striking complement to Gardner’s painful journey
and Smith’s on-point performance as a closet braniac anxious to unleash his
looks like a big slick Hollywood production,
the kind generally trotted out at the holidays for maximum sentimental
consumption. Unlike most box-office giants this quasi-rags-to-riches tale only
occasionally overplays its hand, edging perilously close to maudlin and depressing
but generally retreating on the cusp.
real chops as a dramatic actor, his talent running the gamut from facial
expressions to timing to body language. Smith Jr. – he of the mouthful moniker
-- is a pleasant surprise, hitting genuine notes where it would be simpler to
ham it up kid-style. San Francisco
is its glorious self with a hard-edge focus on the Tenderloin.
story that feels real -- uncommonly refreshing.