Reviewed by

Malaika Horne

Roller coasters are not going the way of the typewriter, particularly if you include emotional roller coaster films, such as The Pursuit to Happyness.  Whether you are skittish or not about hopping into one, this flick is worth the tailspin.

Starring Will Smith, Thandie Newton and Jaden Christopher Syre Smith, Will Smith’s son in real life and in the movie, you couldn’t want a better Horatio Algers rags to riches story.  Sometimes straining credulity, it’s hard to believe that one person could experience such extreme disappointments and upsets day-after-day.  Moreover, this is not fiction, it’s based on one man’s struggle to make a living and take care of his five year-old son and be happy.  His life is so awful, even the day care teacher at the center where his son goes, refuses to spell happiness correctly on the front of the building, even though he constantly insists that it should be corrected.

The Pursuit to Happyness has been receiving rave reviews and award nominations.  For one, it stars an incredibly successful actor.  Smith is well respected and even idolized.  He brings in the gate and moviegoers flock to see him whether it’s action packed like movies like  Independence Day or something more maudlin like this one.  I recognized that he could act when I saw him in Six Degrees of Seperation.   In that, he played a wannabe Ivy Leaguer who the vacuous upper east-siders in NYC found fascinating until they discovered he was a fraud.

Thus, he has range and won’t be stereotyped.  Also, he is likeable, in real life and in character.  I have not seen him in a really sinister role.  Even when he was a rapper in

in the duo of DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince or starring in the TV series, The Fresh Prince of Belair, he is flippant yet adorable.

In his latest film, however, most of the time he’s pathetic.  It gets so bad until you begin to write him off as a loser.  His wife did and his landlords certainly did.

The scene that will be forever seared into my memory is when Chris Gardner, the forlorn San Francisco salesman of a bulky looking piece of medical equipment that he lugs around everywhere, is again depressed and weary over his luckless life.  Standing on a busy corner, in the forefront a fancy long convertible whizzes around the corner full of overly-jubilant young White men and women having the time of their lives.  The juxtaposition is chilling.  The message conveyed:  Whites are happy, Blacks are sad.  To boot, things come easier for Whites.

There are other scenes that convey similar messages of the stark differences in happiness.  This is not to say that all the Whites in the film are living it up, there are a few crackpots, but by and large, the material lives of Whites are in much better shape.  There is also one successful Black man that I can recall.

San Francisco is a tough city if you don’t have money, one of the most expensive in the country.  Why anybody low-income lives there is baffling.  Scenes showing long lines of homeless mostly people of color are showed how some people have become stuck in these large urban areas and apparently see no way out.

This however was not the case for Smith.  Although his wife had lost faith in him with a dead-in job, he turned it all around.  The good will of a few wealthy Whites didn’t hurt either.

This movie could be compared to the Out of Towners, starring Jack Lemon and Sandy Dennis or even Crash, which Thandi Newton played in.  These are films that hold your attention but put you through the wringer at the same time. 

My only criticism is that there is too much gloom and doom and not enough happy times.  The average person experiencing what he did would have probably jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge or at the very least overdosed off depressants.  Instead this man is like the Ever Ready bunny, he just keeps on ticking.  In fact, he just keeps on running as if it is literally a rat race.  He runs everywhere, putting one fire out after the other.  The man’s life is a complete disaster.  But then it changes. 

This is where I will leave you, so you can see it for yourself. 

The Pursuit of Happyness is written by Steve Conrad and directed by Gabriel Muccino.  Executive Producers are David Alper and Amy Baer.  Smith is also listed as one of the producers.

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