The Pursuit of Happyness

“You can’t do that … Never let someone tell you that you can’t do something. Not even me.”

If people think that The Pursuit of Happyness is depressing simply because Will Smith suffers several hardships that you would not wish to visit upon anyone on his way to the top … they probably don’t understand depression.
This film, with its infuriatingly misspelled title (infuriating, that is, until its spelling is justified), is not one that you should do any research into. Any digging will reveal that it’s a pack of lies, and a twee, predictable pack of lies at that. There’s a charm to it, and to Will Smith’s performance, but it doesn’t quite ring true.

Chris Gardner (Will Smith) sells bone density scanners to doctors for a living. Unfortunately these machines are overpriced and relatively useless when compared to X-Rays. Chris’ intolerant wife Linda (Thandie Newton) leaves him when he decides to become a stockbroker. Chris being a manly man, his five year old son Christopher (Jaden Smith) has to “stay” with him at all times – even when Chris becomes homeless because he’s accepted an unpaid internship.
It’s a story about raising yourself up by your bootstraps in the best way known to man: lying through your teeth and never getting caught.

The Pursuit of Happyness is a puff piece for Chris Gardner, dressed up with Hollywood fairy dust to be more cinematic by director Gabrielle Muccino. Gardner had two failed marriages behind him? Make it one, and make his ex-wife a horrible quitter who doesn’t put up any argument about custody. Dean Wittner actually paid a $1,000 a month stipend to their interns? Make it nothing. Chris’ son was only two at the time that all of this happened? Make him five, incredibly cute, and almost entirely oblivious to the perilous situation that his father has placed him in.

In fact, the whole movie simply builds up to the point that Muccino’s camera can bathe Christopher in a heavenly light produced by Chris through nights of hard work. To achieve this end, Chris never sleeps: he has to concentrate on selling the last of his machines and studying for the big internship test. I believe that in an earlier draft Will Smith was set to play T1000, sent from the future to protect Christopher Gardner from evil market forces, all while holding down an unpaid job without a home.

Now I finally understand what people mean when they have almost wholly cynical responses to feel-good movies. Manufacturing the truth out of a true story, featuring a hero who thrives on lies in his day to day life, makes The Pursuit of Happyness feel anything but real. Sometimes Will Smith comes over to narrate, but always in a smug 20/20 way like “Gosh durn I was stupid back in the eighties!” with the epilogue text “Chris Gardner went on to become a multi-millionaire who had a cameo appearance in a movie based ridiculously loosely on his life!” hovering above his head the entire time.

Certainly there’s nothing wrong with a foregone conclusion, but when it’s so foregone that you know that none of the hardships will have any lasting effect on anyone involved, you have to wonder why you bother seeing the hardships. Yes, it’s certainly emotional when Chris finally gets the job after suffering at the hands of Homer Simpson (the leader of the intern program is played by Dan Castellanetta, who here sounds exactly like his blue haired lawyer character from The Simpsons), but did it earn that emotion?

The worst that I can say of a movie when I’m out of it is that I didn’t particularly react to what it was about, but to what it was. The Pursuit of Happyness is a “movie”, and it feels like it. Not once do you get the chance to feel like it’s anything else, or to react to any of the situations within. This movie is a strangely cynical cash grab for compassion on the part of a passably charismatic man who lied his way to the top. Smith’s voiceover and Muccino’s camera talk up Gardner at every turn, but you can’t help but feel that neither he, nor the movie, has earned your praise.

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13 Responses to The Pursuit of Happyness

  1. Wavatar Curtis says:

    The thing that I disliked most about this movie was the whole “He’s chasing after the American dream!” aspect. The forgone conclusion was always in my mind, particularly in the scenes when he was lining up to stay in the homeless shelter. I kept wondering whether he would end up with any sympathy for these people when he became a millionaire… I haven’t done any research to back this up, but I am suspect about the epilogue which mentions nothing about whether he does anything with his money to help those in the same situation he experienced. And yeah, good on him for persevering and overcoming obstacles, but what about those hundreds of disenfranchised people he shared the line with… what hope did they ever have of rising out of their poverty? It’s an ethic I guess I don’t particularly care for.

    Here endeth the rant. Figured I should start using the comment function on this thing.

  2. Wavatar max says:

    you what they says” Once your up and high you will never bother looking down”

  3. Wavatar Robert says:

    I bought the DVD just on a whim really but I do find Will Smith a very likeable chap. So, I knew nothing of the man Chris Gardner and didnt watch this movie with any baggage, furthermore had no idea it was based on a true story until the opening credits…Hmmm interesting I thought.

    As the movie goes it was a fairly typical Hollywood gloss affair. Something for a sunday afternoon I guess. Im not complaining as i found the movie OK mostly down to Smith and his son’s performances and until I saw the extras thought it a reasonably inspirational story…but something made me uneasy even while I watched it.

    After the movie I checked out the extras specifically for the purpose of wanting to find out more about this inspirational character Chris Gardner and lo and behold there was the man on set…But not just on set, he was there every day without fail. Immediatly I started thinking OH OH, who likes to be the centre of attraction. Gardner seems to love himself rather to much me thinks. I could even tell the man was stressing out the cast and crew from watching the dvd on set extras. Its subtle but you can tell, and a couple of times Im certain Smith isnt wholly comfortable in the mans prescence. , Now I could go on and dissect gardner and the movie but I think we all get the point. I do wish to mention a couple more things though.

    Title: The Pursuit of Happiness
    So, the only way to achieve (happyness) is through making a million dollars. Oh is that right? I would have thought something more along the lines of a loving family. Does this mean everyone who watches and is not a millionaire couldnt possibly be happy. In a way its quite insulting because the vast majority of us will never make a million dollars so we are left with a “Will I ever be happy” feeling after watching the movie (once you think about it). But, thinking of the title of the book and who came up with the title says much about Gardner. Immature, not particularly intelligent, and probably self centred if you ask me.

    I would have much prefered the story if it was totally made up, Smith produced this one and when i think of the subjects he could have tackled I do think what a wasted oppurtunity. Im certain Smith is a nice guy but somehow he has let himself be misguied in choosing this project and I get the feeling he sort of knows it. Call it a hunch. Liek I said above I like Smith and this hasnt put me off, but if hes going to produce more of his own stuff I would like to see him flex his acting muscles a bit more. His performance in the movie was fine but he could do better. Perhaps having Gardner on set the whole time wasnt helping. Can you imagine some of the pointers from gardner while he watched a movie being made about himself…Oh what an ego trip.

    After the movie I put on another one. Apocalypto. yes Mel Gibson doing his thing how it should be done. Taking chances and pushing barriers. Mel is a bit of a tortured soul but thats why I like him, hes human and while im sure hes also on the pursuit of happ(Y)ness just like the rest of us Gibson’s faults and humanity comes through in all his work whether hes directing or acting and thats what I like. I liked Apocalypto so much I then watched the directors commentary and enjoyed that a lot as well. I wont be watching the directors commentary of pursuit of fakery

  4. Wavatar Betty says:

    I disliked how the film tried to portray the ex-wife as a villan. The film shows how Garner’s “pursuit of happyness” led his the absence of happiness in his wife’s own life. Here is a woman who supported his decision to use their life savings to buy into the medical machine business and because of his lack of business acumen, she is forced to work double-shifts at a shitty job for months on end to make ends meet. She gets to spend little if any time with the child and constantly lives under the fear that she will lose her crappy job because her husband doesn’t keep his word about picking the child up in time for her to get to work. When she does leave him, he bullies her into leaving the child with him. There is nothing wrong with having a dream but he seemed to value it over his marriage and family. I’m sure that whatever trophy wife he’s with now, would never have put up with him at all when he was penniless.

  5. Wavatar Pam says:

    I agree with some of the comments made about the movie and the character that Will Smith portrays in the movie. Before you critisize and “assume” the movie is the EXACTLY the way Chris’ life was, you might want to do a little more digging to find out the story in its entirety. You must care, you did post a blog about it. You’ll find that it’s very difficult to put, oh I don’t know, 3,4,5 years into a movie that lasts about 1-2 hours. The point of the movie was to show success and as we all can sit in front of our television and watch the movie saying what we would be doing differently and how he should have done more here and not done that there……the point is YOU ARE IN LIFE WHERE YOU ARE DUE TO THE DECISIONS YOU HAVE MADE. Everyone has the right to make “bad” decisions. Everyone has the right to fail, in fact, where would you be today if you have never failed at anything?? I have a feeling that people who sit and critisize everyone else’s lives and decisions are not happy with who they are and where they are in life.

    Just a note to those who seem to think that wealthy people who have struggled never help others who had the same struggles….again, research. You don’t know and how can you speak for people in general like that? That is an ignorant thing to say.

    (I realize this blog is old, but I ran across it and just knew someone was looking for my comment)

  6. Wavatar Lydia says:

    Whether people like the movie/think it is unrealistic/full of lies/made to have you feel bad for Chris Gardner etc. etc. etc. I think the idea of him having to justify or go back to the homeless shelter he was in to “give back” or whatever is just not important. How many of those people (homeless), where mentally able to work? Ok, now once you figure that out, how many “WANTED” more? What happended to Chris Gardner could happen to anyone. As for his ex-wife… I don’t care what the issues were, how could ANY one (male or female), leave their child? I was going to do some research to see if they ever see each other again… But as for her leaving, I probable would have too. Let’s face it, having to work a double shift while your man carries around useless machines?

    My point is this… he is a “self” made millionare. He studied, passed the test and kept on going… That is an honerable thing. Is it everything? Maybe he can answer that if you email him. Who knows.

  7. Wavatar Devo says:

    Hi Everyone.

    Those who player hatin, allow the brother to be, aspire to achieve yourself. For some it is very difficultto see a black man rise from the ashes and become a millionaire.

    If you watch the movie you´ll see he was the only blackman, was the one to make coffee for a white man, like most of our parents had to do and when they die, they have nothing to leave their children. Dont judge the brother, focus on you and leave something for your kids one day that you worked for, not what you anyway illegally got through systems like apartheid in my country (South Africa).

    I wana say be proud make your money, watch movies to enjoy and stop the fake life of dissing hard working people like Chris. Focuss on yourself and be somebody, not just a working slave for other others.

    If theirs any black people in this discussion, if no one else wanna be proud, let us be proud. Big up.Chris. Much love from South Africa. Make us proud.

  8. Wavatar angela says:

    First of all, I never go into a “true story” film expecting it to be completely true. Of course they will change, omit or add to the truth to make it more of an emotional experience for the viewers. I can believe certain aspects, like the fact that Linda was so hateful and cruel. Of course she was. Her husband wasn’t working, she was working double shifts and they were still behind on all of their bills. I would probably be a little grumpy as well. As far as Chris Gardner hanging out on set, he’s proud of himself, wouldn’t you be? He triumphed. So what if they payed him $1000 a month. He was living in Cali in the 80’s, that was not a lot of money and certainly not enough for rent, day care, groceries, etc. Give the guy a break. He did something amazing in his life and wanted to brag a little. I thought the movie was inspiring, and even purchased it so that every now and then when I have some free time I can pull it out and think of the happyness we all can have if only we pursue it.

  9. Wavatar rfke says:

    man give the man a break
    he had a dream- and he got it
    luv u chris

  10. Wavatar fez says:

    alright Linda is not his wife she is his girlfriend !

  11. Wavatar John says:

    Wow,

    This is sad. Most of the people posting on this blog sound like a bunch of broke losers who just want a hand out. Chris Gardner had a dream and he did what it took to over come those obstacles and succeed. Most men succeed not because they are destined to, but because they are determined to. Chris Gardner is proof of that line. You ask what about all the other people in the line with him? What about them? This is America, any one and everyone has the opportunity to change their situation in life. They might have to be willing to take on the challenges that Gardner faced. Here in lies the problem, most of you broke loser aren’t willing to step out of the slum of mediocrity and do something with their lives. And no, making a million dollars doesn’t mean that you will be happy. But neither does being poor, I can assure you of that. Chris Gardner, you are a Champion and I applaud your success. As for the rest of you, I hope your welfare checks keep coming…

  12. Wavatar lily says:

    I think I was moved when I saw this movie.
    It inspires me a lot. when we live, when we are in trouble .. maybe we will fed up with troubles.
    because there are a lot of troubles we have to face with .

  13. Wavatar Paul says:

    I used to be a stockbroker/financial advisor. I left the profession over ethics. My could outsell anyone. My only problem? I had a conscience. I doubt this guy is a saint. Back when he started in the business, Wall Street was as unethical as can be. It still is to some extent. Those were the “wild wild west” days. The days of churning accounts, making 400 calls a day to sell some little old lady a bullshit stock that would tank the next day. Some crooks even sold stocks that did not exist. Now, I don’t know this guy. So I’m not saying he is, or is not, one thing or another. But I do know the profession he’s in, first hand, and if Wall Street hasn’t proven it to you already, it’s full of snakes and liars. Is he the odd man out? Is he a rare knight in shinning armor? Maybe. But I doubt it. More like the usual Hollywood spin. The dirt is swept under the rug and he comes out smelling like a rose. That’s my opinion anyway.

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