Smith and Son Shine in "Happyness"
- Stephen McGarvey Editor-in-Chief, Crosswalk.com
- 2006 12 Dec
DVD Release Date: March 27, 2007
Theatrical Release Date: December 15, 2006
Rating: PG-13 (for some language)
Run Time: 117 min.
Director: Gabriele Muccino
Cast: Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Thandie Newton, Brian Howe, James Karen, Dan Castellaneta, Kurt Fuller, Takayo Fischer
There are many reasons to love a good father/son movie. Fathers so often get the shaft in pop culture and on the big screen. “The Pursuit of Happyness” (the reason for this misspelling is explained early in the film) not only gives us a strong portrayal of a loving father, but an uplifting lesson in perseverance and being happy even when life is rough.
Based on a true rags-to-riches story, "Happyness" features Will Smith in an inspiring performance as Chris Gardner, a down and out medical equipment salesman who is trying to get a job as a stockbroker. Chris has moved to San Francisco from his home in Texas to become the Bay Area’s only salesman of “high-density bone scanners.” The only problem is that most hospitals and doctor’s offices consider them an expensive luxury item, so sales are sparse. Since Chris has sunk his entire life savings into the company, finances are tight, and his weary wife Linda (Thandie Newton) is forced to work extra shifts at her job.
Things go from bad to worse with Chris as his wife leaves him and their son Christopher (played be Smith’s real-life son Jayden Smith) and more of his bills come due. Chris decides the only way out of his downward spiral is to get a job as a stockbroker. It seems his only way in the door at the brokerage firm of Dean Witter is a six-month unpaid internship, at the end of which one of the 20 interns will be offered a full-time job. And now a single dad, Chris must do everything his intern co-workers do, in less time since he must leave work early every day to pick up his son.
Chris’ trials are so heart-wrenching; you wonder when is he ever going to catch a break. It seems like whenever things start to go his way, new misfortune befalls him. He is thrown out of his apartment and then his hotel room, to end up waiting in line for beds in a homeless shelter every night. When money is at its tightest, he sells a scanner, only to have the IRS raid his bank account for back taxes. Fortunately the ‘Happyness’ is paced and edited well. Scenes of humor (often revolving around people stealing his bone scanners, a useless piece of equipment for anyone who isn’t a doctor) and emotional resonance are placed throughout the film, keeping it from becoming depressing.
Expect to see Will Smith garner an Oscar nomination for this role, arguably his best acting to date. The sheer force of this performance makes you completely forget the wise-crackin’ ‘Fresh Prince,’ and the Alien-bustin’ smart alec of years past. Casting Smith’s real life son Jayden as 5-year-old Christopher is an inspired choice. The obvious emotional chemistry between father and son is a joy to watch.
“I met my father for the first time when I was 28 year old,” Chris says in a voice-over narration. “When I had children, my children were going to know who their father was,” explaining simply his dedication to Christopher. While “The Pursuit of Happyness” is about Chris’ dogged determination to make a better life for his family, the movie shines as a look at the relationship between Chris and son Christopher. With so many terrible fathers in the world, both in fiction and reality, it’s refreshing to see a hardworking, yet devoted father portrayed on the big screen.
AUDIENCE: 12 and up
- Alcohol/Drugs: Small amount of social drinking.
- Language/Profanity: Some profanity scattered throughout the movie. Most notably, the “F” word scrawled in graffiti on the sign for Christopher’s day care. Christopher later repeats the word asking his dad if it’s spelled right. Chris tells his son yes, but that’s a bad word and he shouldn’t use it.
- Sex/Nudity: In one scene Chris and Linda are getting ready for work in the bathroom. Both are in their underwear.
- Violence: Chris has several near violent arguments throughout the film. During one with Linda, she hits him a bit. During another he almost gets into a fight with another homeless guy in front of his son.
- Worldview: Chris lies to coworkers and colleagues several times (sometimes in front of his son) to hide his destitute condition. He skips out on paying a cab driver when a businessman leaves him with the bill and he has no cash. Mom Linda leaves the family in San Francisco for a job in New York when times get tough for them. Chris is jailed (overnight until his check clears) for unpaid parking tickets.