The Pursuit of Happyness
Time Out says
Remember “Just the Two of Us,” Will Smith’s sensitive-man rap paean to fathers and sons on the 1997 album Big Willie Style? The former Fresh Prince is tugging at similar heartstrings with his new movie, the unfortunately titled The Pursuit of Happyness (it refers to a misspelled graffito that features in the film). Sporting a vintage Jesse Jackson mustache, Smith plays Chris Gardner, a struggling salesman living in San Francisco with bitter wife Linda (Newton) and five-year-old Christopher (Jaden Smith, Will’s real-life son) during the early 1980s. Linda walks out on the family, leaving Chris to care for the boy, even as they slide into homelessness, sleeping in subway-station bathrooms and shelters. But a nonpaying internship at Bear Stearns leads Chris to hope that he’ll land a job as a stockbroker and turn their lives around.
Despite the canned uplift of this rags-to-riches tale, there’s something unexpected—and affecting—about its depiction of an ordinary American living on the economic margins, performing a superhuman juggling act just to help his family survive. What was the last Hollywood film that dealt with homelessness? It seems just about right that when Chris Gardner’s big break does come, Smith’s face registers not facile “happyness,” but sheer exhausted bewilderment. (Opens Fri 15; Click here for venues.) — Tom Beer