Hey, what’s up with their spelling of “happiness”, grammar and spelling fiends will wonder (such as myself). Well, before watching the movie, the “y” in “happyness” bugged me but after seeing the movie, I know there’s actually a reason for it. Not just Hollywood execs being too cheap to hire a proofreader.
The Pursuit of Happyness is based on the true story of Christopher Gardner and his life of financial hardships with his son before making it as a self-made millionaire. Chris Gardner is played by Will Smith and Gardner’s son, Cristopher, is played by Smith’s real life son, Jaden. Even though this was Jaden’s first time in a starring role in a movie, he actually does a pretty good job as far as child actors go. I guess it also helps that there wasn’t much “acting” needed to pretend the father in the movie was really his father. Will Smith also shines in his portrayal of a guy conflicted with his yearning to climb the ladder of success to one day better provide for his family and his need to provide for his family at the present moment. He delivers in heartwarming, serene scenes with his son and scenes where he’s a man on the edge, when everything seems to be going wrong and nothing seems possible.
The story itself has an unbelievable amount of heartache and extreme anguish. It is like a punch in the stomach, one after another. Each lugubrious event is followed by another, in a sort of endless cycle of horribly unfortunate things happening to Mr. Gardner. There’s the much talked about scene where father and son have to stay overnight in a public bathroom after being kicked out of their motel room. There was also the scene where Chris, at his breaking point, drags his son to catch the bus in order to get into the line at the shelter; meanwhile, his son has dropped his toy and is crying his eyes out but his father will not and cannot stop to pick it up. Of the many, many, sad moments in the movie there are also some stand-out, tender moments the audience will appreciate amidst the tribulations. One of which is when Chris tells his son, as they are shooting hoops, that he shouldn’t get too caught up with playing basketball because he likely won’t be very good at it given his genetics, with Chris being a not very good basketball player. As Cristopher is putting away his basketball into a plastic grocery bag, looking visbly discouraged, his father tells him not to let anyone –even his father– tell him he can’t do something. It was beautifully scripted and acted.
At the heart of the film is the idea of the American Dream and how, if we all work hard enough and believe in it, it can be attained by any one of us. It promotes a kind of a “pull your bootstraps up” and “go get ’em” ideology, which can be equally inspiring and despairing. Inspiring because it’s encouraging in its “YOU CAN DO IT! GO FOR IT!” message but at the same time, despairing because if you’re just not achieving the American Dream regardless of what you do and how hard you try, does that mean you as an individual have something inherently wrong with you? It’s an ideal that is hard to live up to. As a sociology major, I want to point out that it’s important to also consider the macro perspective in these matters. However, I know it’s a movie centered around one individual’s story so macro-sociology aside, I’ll look past all that. Furthermore, the American Dream is really an illusion. We all strive for the idea of it, but what is it? Can material success actually equate to infinite happiness or is this not possible because we are inherently always on the search for a “one up” and striving for more, more, more. More wealth, power, prestige, security, etc. And I’m sure all that comes at a cost, whether it be time or morals or dignity. The movie’s ending doesn’t really address this but you kind of wonder whether Chris Gardner, in his pursuit of a better life and subsequently, happiness, if he really attained it by means of his new high-paying job with his millions of dollars to buy whatever he wanted.
Ultimately, The Pursuit of Happyness shows you how the human spirit can prevail in times of despair and tribulation. It’s sometimes quite daunting to know that the experiences seen in the movie actually happened to a real person and I’m a bit cynical, but perhaps the filmmakers exaggerated some parts to make it a more compelling story for the big screen. In any case, the movie is wonderfully acted with some very heart-felt moments amidst excruciatingly sad moments and all together a movie worth watching.