Film Review: The Pursuit Of Happyness

I still remember seeing the trailer for The Pursuit Of Happyness on the big screen and being completely sucked in to this uplifting sale of hope, dreams and following what’s in your heart. I will forever associate Soar by Christina Aguilera to the movie and I will always remember Will Smith as Chris Gardener ending his pivotal speech “…if you want something go get it. Period.” Overcome, believing, that at that moment, every dream in my head, every desire for my future, was possible, whatever anyone says.

But sadly for every minute of rousing passion and can do self belief that the trailer implies, the end product, the actual movie, just doesn’t live up to the hype its set. The movie is just a let down, too focused on one man’s impossible dream rather than the relationship with his son, and even worse, when you really start to look at its story everything feels a bit too shallow and a bit too vain. It just lacks any real sense of distress or depth. It’s a story that sold you it’s heart only to realise it’s a fake.

Will Smith As Chris Gardner - The Pursuit Of Happyness

That isn’t to say that the film doesn’t have any emotions in it. Will Smith works at Chris Gardner and you buy into his pain and anguish. But they are his. Not yours. You never once feel what he does. You see it, understand it and accept it but never feel it. His life is crumbling apart on screen and you just sit there watching, never moved, never close to empathising.

I think the problem though is that to make those connections, to let it get under your skin you need to imagine yourself in his position. And it’s almost impossible to see yourself taking the action he does. That’s not to say people don’t follow their dreams or recklessly throw all their eggs into one basket. Risking the short term for the potential future but this on screen you are watching a man do it who you just cannot believe in. The film is spotlighted directly onto one man but tries to trick you into accepting his actions by involving his son. But it fails, and it fails badly, because naively, it makes a big play of the fact he’s driven by money and a bright red Ferrari. Suddenly, the film completely unintentionally makes you realise that Chris Gardner, as portrayed, is a stubborn and selfish man, driven not by the pursuit of happiness but in fact, the pursuit of money. And it causes you to look at the movie as egoistical and smug as much as difficult and uplifting.

Will Smith & Jaden Smith - The Pursuit Of Happyness

Looking past the disconnection to the narrative plot, Will Smith does put in a performance that is convincing and obviously, the relationship with his son completely believable, because it is his son Jaden Smith. You can see the love and vigour and connection between them. And for every problem the film creates emotionally between you and Will Smith, it salvages between you and Jaden. You feel his pain, his naive acceptance, his lust for life. There are times when it’s obvious he’s just a kid being given a bit more space, that he’s not being forced into a specific role or character but rather, simply, directed to play “small child”, but still you almost feel for him more because you hate that his father has forced, selfishly this life upon him.

These fleeting moments of compassion towards Jaden Smith and hatred of a self justifying main character aren’t helped by the fact that the film is set in a world that is just too shiny and clean and neat. Even when are characters are meant to be at their lowest points you still don’t feel any dirt. Life is meant to be this hard, tough struggle and yet somehow, the film creates a tone that everything is one big happy adventure. They never seem to eat, they never seem to have any money and they wash once in a blue moon and yet they never look hungry, broke or like they smell. And Will Smith never appears to sleep but also, never appears to be tired either.

I hate to say it because superficially, as simple people, the characters throughout the film seem likeable, I enjoyed spending time with them, but they never felt real and worse The Pursuit Of Happyness for what is meant to be a tale of following your dreams, of battling the true horrors of life in the gutter, somehow feels no worse than somebody complaining they had to buy supermarket own brand this week because they’d sold out of everything else. It’s being too polite. Visually too sterile. And not nearly hard enough to make you buy into the difficulties of its story. It just keeps you too removed from it to make you fully understand it’s pain.

Jaden Smith - The Pursuit Of Happyness

My final complain though is that the pace of the film never changes. It’s not fast, it’s not slow, it just ticks along at a constant drum and while I was never really bored, my mind did wander and when it feels like you’ve stuck with its story for long enough you realise you’re only just reaching the middle. I think because you fail to form any real connection or emotional bond that you don’t get lost into the film or swept along by it. You simply end up wishing it forward, accepting that it will never talk to you with any impact.

The Pursuit Of Happyness has a few redeeming features but nothing like enough to salvage the bad points. It will always be a film that I turn to when I feel in need of an uplifting tale forced as memories of the trailer and that song come flooding back into my mind. And it will always been a film that when the first hour is finished, I will be sitting there bored, having remembered just how far from the uplifting story I want it sadly is.

4 out of 10 stars (4 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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