It must have been difficult for the two actors to perform some of the scenes. For example, when Chris is kicked out of one of many temporary homes, his son doesn’t understand why they can’t sleep there. Chris grabs his shoulders and screams at him as he shakes him. The fear and sadness on Christopher’s face is heartbreaking, and Smith remains in character without a glimpse of guilt for screaming at and frightening his own child.
Because The Pursuit of Happyness is such a raw story (perhaps as raw as Hollywood can be) about the human experience, you can’t help but get caught up in the emotional arc of the lead character. At every turn Chris meets a new hurdle and every time he makes it – often barely – viewers cheer him on in the hope that he will triumph, and realise his dream.
But the movie never sacrifices its plausibility, largely because it’s loosely based on the real life story of Chris Gardner who went from owning nothing to being a multi-millionaire. It’s often exhausting to watch Chris juggle his responsibilities. A good portion of the movie is taken up by shots of him running through the streets of San Francisco, rushing get to his internship class, or his son’s day-care, or the homeless shelter before they shut their doors. This frenetic action keeps the movie at visually interesting, and acts as a nice counter point to the quiet, emotional scenes.
The movie’s only weakness is Thandie Newton, who plays Smith’s wife. Newton has proved herself as an accomplished actress, but in this movie she falls short. Her accent is not convincing, nor is her portrayal of an impoverished wife working double shifts.
As for the spelling mistake in Happyness, it’s not a typo. The real Chris Gardner saw this spelling on a sign when he was homeless and decided to use it as the title of his book. But it’s also works in summarising the message of the movie about pursuing what best speaks to you, even if it looks strange to other people. As Smith says in one scene: “You got a dream, you gotta protect it. People can't do something themselves, they wanna tell you that you can't do it. You want something? Go get it. Period.”
- Nomfundo H Mbaba+Tshabalala
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