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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Pursuit of Happyness

Poster of The Pursuit of Happyness

When the credits of The Pursuit of Happyness started rolling, everyone in the cinema begun applauding.

I've never seen that happening in Malaysian theaters before (nor Singapore or Australia). In fact, applauding after a movie was something I've witnessed only when I was in U.S. I guess people were really moved by this film, and it also helped that the most touching (in my opinion) scene of the film occurred in the ending.

The Pursuit of Happyness is one of those films elevated by really great acting from its lead actor. Will Smith definitely deserved his Oscar nomination here as Chris Gardner (more so, in my opinion, than his first nomination for his portrayal as Muhammad Ali in 2001's Ali), it also helped that he has great onscreen chemistry with his real-life son, Jaden Christopher Syre Smith, who plays Chris Gardner's son, Christopher.

This film is based on a true story (although, obviously, creative liberties were taken). I'll just borrow the summary from IMDB because I am lazy.

Chris Gardner was a struggling salesman in little needed medical bone density scanners while his wife toiled in double shifts to support the family including their young son, Christopher. In the face of this difficult life, Chris has the desperate inspiration to try for a stockbroker internship where one in twenty has a chance of a lucrative full time career. Even when his wife leaves him because of this choice, Chris clings to this dream with his son even when the odds become more daunting by the day. Together, father and son struggle through homelessness, jail time, tax seizure and the overall punishing despair in a quest that would make Gardner a respected millionaire.

And that's it, we see one misery after another happening to Chris and his son, and how he struggles to overcome them all. I do agree with Sebastian's review. that the film itself is far from Oscar material, I was thankful that the film never really descend into sentimental schmaltz, no cheesy manufactured father-son bonding scenes forced down our throats, nor over-the-top show-stopping rousing speeches from Will Smith, just (sort of) gritty realism, which makes things (to me) more genuine and less manipulative. I guess Italian director Gabriele Muccino's understated style made it different from your usual slick Hollywood film. (good thing this didn't become something like... Patch Adams)

You'll either think that it's boring and uneventful, or you'll feel that it's pretty inspiring and moving. To me, it's a good movie with great performances from the two leads. If I ever get the chance to make a biopic, I guess I myself would stick with the underdog theme too, it's always more appealing.

I've always liked Will Smith since his Fresh Prince of Bel-Air days, and was excited to see his meteoric rise to superstardom with Bad Boys, Independence Day and Men In Black. Then clunkers like Wild Wild West, Bad Boys 2 and Men In Black 2 briefly turned me away from him, I thought he might have damned himself by pulling a 'late to early 90s Eddie Murphy/ Sly Stallone, and any film with him in it will suck badly. But then, Hitch came, and he won me over again (maybe starring in a comedy which pokes fun of your own image is really the best way to go for superstars who are becoming way too big... hmm), but I definitely didn't expect him to be this good in Pursuit of Happyness.

Interview with the real Chris Gardner at 20/20 (Part 1)

Interview with the real Chris Gardner at 20/20 (Part 2)

Will Smith and Chris Gardner discuss The Pursuit of Happyness