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The Pursuit of Happyness
A feel-gud film based on a true story
The Pursuit of Happyness
Will Smith Stars in "Pursuit of Happyness".
OPENING WEEKEND: $12,000,000
DOMESTIC TOTAL: $65,000,000
OTHER PREVIEWS: Alatriste (7/10)
  This Film is NOT a Future Release.
  The Following Preview has been Archived.

June 23rd, 2006: Christopher Gardner (Will Smith), a talented and promising young African-American adult, is left unemployed after a series of unfortunate circumstances obliterate his chances at a risky career venture into the stock and bond market. Having just received custody of his small son (Jaden Smith), he is reduced to poverty and homelessness. Determined to salvage his role as a father, he does whatever he can to provide some stability for his child. While seeking a roof over their head, the two wander from soup lines, to shelters, and even to train station bathrooms. Gardner’s incredible willpower and desire to become a broker eventually leads him out of scarcity and into employment. Miraculously, he lands a job as a trainee and rises through the ranks at respected companies like Dean Witter and Bear Stearns. His forceful resolve and uncanny ability to take charge of his life pays off exponentially. He becomes so successful that he opens his own brokerage company – Gardner Rich & Co. This is a true rags to riches story that defines the American dream.

What to Expect: The film is based on a true story that Gardner chronicles in his memoir, The Pursuit of Happyness. The “Happyness” in the book’s title comes from a misspelled word in the name of a daycare facility that Gardner considered for his son and ultimately rejected due to the error. The word also holds special importance to him personally due to the insight he gained while explaining the meaning of the word to his inquisitive boy.

Article continues below

Gardner’s arduous, but ultimately rewarding journey from the dead end of urban Milwaukee to the open market of Wall Street is a testament to the human spirit. Born in 1954, Gardner grew up poor and fatherless, like many young unfortunate African-American kids in the inner-cities. In his book, he depicts the adversities that he and many black males faced, including his relationship with his abusive stepfather, who impeded him at every turn. At the age of 20, Gardner arrived in San Francisco following a brief stint in the Navy. Although he possessed zero education outside of high school, he had become known as somewhat of a genius in scientific research. He surprised everyone when he gave up a promising medical career to pursue wealth in the finance industry. His lucky break and simultaneous introduction to the stock and bond market came when he landed an entry-level position at a prestigious firm, but due to a complex set of circumstances, Gardner became unemployed. Women were his weakness and a relationship with one contributed to his downfall and left him with a kid. Motivated by a promise to never abandon any of his children the way he was discarded by his father, he struggled through homelessness for about a year, all while staying together with his son. The two went through a period where they lived in shelters and at one point were even forced to sleep in a public restroom at a San Francisco train station. Gardner’s determination and resourcefulness finally gave him an opportunity to prove himself in a job. Eventually, the position opened the door to incredible opportunities at respected companies and the valuable education he received throughout the process allowed him to open his own brokerage company. The ordeal never defeated Gardner as he made a stunning transformation from poverty to a life of wealth and power, ultimately providing safety and shelter to his son.

Gardner’s story aired on ABC’s show 20/20 in January of 2005 and immediately became a media sensation. It was hotly pursued by several studios. In the same month, it was announced that Will Smith would star in a big screen version of the book, with Steve Conrad adapting the screenplay. Conrad wrote an original script for last year’s poignant, unconventional, and highly underrated The Weather Man and now appears to have many future projects (Chad Schmidt, Quebec) lined up after keeping relatively quiet for the past decade. He has a keen eye for these types of slightly peculiar, bittersweet tales so I trust he will produce a strong adaptation. Smith, on the other hand, immediately insisted that Italian director Gabriele Muccino be hired to helm the picture. Although Muccino is not widely popular in the States, his films like L'Ultimo bacio (One Last Kiss) and Ricordati di me (Remember Me, My Love) exemplify the same sort of tender approach to material that will probably be ideal for The Pursuit of Happyness.

For Smith, this will be another opportunity to flex his acting muscle. The performer has entertained audiences for years in close to a dozen grand, box-office blockbusters. However, in films like Six Degrees of Separation, The Legend of Bagger Vance, and Ali, Smith has proven to be quite a versatile actor, even earning himself an Oscar nomination for portraying the titular boxer in the latter. He can easily make the transition to playing Gardner and I expect he will attract praise from audiences and critics. Jaden Smith, the real life 7-year old son of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, will play Gardner’s son in the film in what will be his big screen debut. The on-screen chemistry between the two should be an interesting element to watch out for. Crash and Mission: Impossible 2 star Thandie Newton completes the family. The delicate actress will play Gardner’s estranged wife Linda and mother to his son. Dan Castellaneta, the voice of Homer on the infamous television show “The Simpsons,” has a fairly prominent supporting role in The Pursuit of Happyness. As Alan Frakesh, Gardner’s office manager in the company where the struggling hero becomes an intern, Castellaneta is likely to provide some of the film’s lighter moments.

The film is sure to focus on Gardner’s personal story and not on some of the book’s more informative passages about his career in the business world. Gardner’s tale of the American dream has been described as not exceedingly original, but his likeable voice as an author and his honest depiction of his triumph eventually wins readers over. Ultimately, it is the story of a man who is able to break out of the confines of his race, social status, and damaging family history. Naturally, it is a perfect project for Hollywood and one that represents what has become an absolute niche for the industry. I expect the film to tug at the heartstrings just long enough before swooping people’s spirits up. It is always difficult to argue against feel-good films based on actual events, since however heartwarming the story may be, it is based on facts. Frequently, there are life’s little details that Hollywood tends to omit in order to give their films that polish of perfection, but in this case, Gardner’s life may just border on being a fairy tale. So if the film seems syrupy sweet, it may actually be appropriate, even if it is predictable judging by Hollywood standards.

In Conclusion: I find Gardner’s story comparable to Antwone Fisher’s, which Denzel Washington made into a popular movie a few years ago. The Pursuit of Happyness is likely to depict Gardner’s similar social and racial struggles coupled with a tale of absolute redemption. It is a shame, but this movie is likely to revel in Hollywood’s conventional, feel-good tendencies, rather than break out of them. In this case, however, it is at least not entirely unwarranted given the real life situation. Play this film during the mushy Holiday season and have superstar Will Smith go on an extensive tour to promote it and it could become a modest hit on all levels.

Similar Titles: Antwone Fisher, Good Will Hunting, The Hurricane
December 15th, 2006 (wide)
March 27th, 2007 (DVD)

Columbia Pictures

Gabriele Muccino

Will Smith, Thandie Newton, Jaden Smith, Dan Castellaneta

Total: 140 vote(s).


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Rated PG-13 for some language

117 min





The Pursuit of Happyness at AskMen.com

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