Movie Review: "The Pursuit Of Happyness"

Stop what you're doing right now.

Stop, drop everything, and go see this movie right this minute.

Well, maybe not right this minute, because it's still early in the morning and the theaters aren't likely even open yet.

But don't waste any time in getting to a theater to see "The Pursuit of Happyness", obviously the "feel-good" movie of this holiday season, but it's far more than that, too.

You no doubt know the basic story -- it's "inspired by" (as the opening credits state) the life of Chris Gardner, who was the multimillionaire founding partner of the Chicago-based investment firm Gardner Rich (he recently sold it for millions). But in 1981, he was a just-barely-above-water salesman in San Francisco, trying to make money by selling a medical scanning machine that he'd invested his life savings in, and had discovered that most doctors just didn't want one.

Dragging these heavy machines across San Francisco (and more than once having them stolen), Gardner (the phenomenal Will Smith) is a man in constant motion, always running late, jumping over BART turnstiles, and coming home to a wife (Thandie Newton), who plays her as a bitchy shrew, who at one time supported his sales dream, but now works two shifts at a laundry and who seems disillusioned with life.

The two have a five-year-old son, played by Smith's real-life son Jaden (who is now eight). There has been Oscar buzz for Will Smith, but let me tell you -- Jaden Smith pretty much steals every scene he's in, and it's not fake emotion he shows. This kid's a natural (he ought to, with the talented parents he has -- and I think he might deserve a Supporting Actor nomination), and you can feel within him all the normal inquisitiveness of a five-year-old, but also the street-wiseness he has had to develop as his father first loses his apartment (after his wife leaves him), then moves into a cheap motel and has to leave there because he literally has no money. The two wind up sleeping in a men's room at a train station, tears running down Chris Gardner's face because he knows, he just knows, if he can get one little break, he'll make something for himself and his family.

That break, he hopes, comes from an internship he has, thanks to his persistence, landed at the brokerage firm Dean Witter. He works hard, even knowing that at the end of the internship there is no guarantee of a job, and only one of twenty interns will be chosen. He hides his homelessness and poverty from everyone in the firm -- the other interns and the executives. You expect the executives to be tough and unrelenting, and they are, but they also reward hard work, and they seem to throughout recognize how hard Chris is working.

Even at that, there is a very affecting scene very near the end of the film, where an executive repays a kindness that Chris has done for him earlier -- it serves as the final payoff that all Chris' work has indeed been recognized.

There are scenes that remind all of us about homelessness and what it means in society -- and you have to stop and remember that these are depicting life as it was twenty-five years ago. It's far worse today.

There's a reason "Happyness" is spelled the way it is in the title of this film, and that also has significance in the lives of Gardner and his son, but I'll let you see the film and find this out for yourself. You also will see a brief cameo walk-on by the real Chris Gardner -- and I won't ruin that scene for you, either. The film is a reminder of what you can achieve if you pursue your dreams, work hard, and never give up.

Go see this film. It's wonderful. If I could give it eight stars, I would. It's the best movie I've seen this year.

AYRating:

The top 100 profile for today will be posted this afternoon.

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