Monday, December 18, 2006

The Pursuit Of Happyness

Will Smith has one of the longest lists-of-hits in modern film, with more than his share of $100 million dollar blockbusters on his resume. He became King of Summer Releases with Independence Day, and cemented that standing with Men In Black.

This guy is so solid that people line up to see his duds.

So, he's made a lot of cash for the studios, and for himself in the last ten years. He's had lots of success. What he hasn't had, though, is a signature role that shows off his ability to carry a film alone, through the portrayal of a complicated and multi-layered character.

His role as Chris Gardner in the
Pursuit Of Happyness gives Smith that opportunity. And he delivers.

Chris Gardner is a real life rags-to-riches story, a man who always had ambition and foresight but little means or opportunity. The movie opens as Gardner, his wife and son are facing an insurmountable financial crisis. His wife consistently works double shifts for low pay, and his sales job is hit or miss. And mostly it's miss. Gardner sunk his life savings into bone density scanning machines, and carries them from doctor's office to doctor's office on sales calls, but rarely sells one.

Gardner schlepping the bulky, over-sized machine from office to office is a terrific metaphor; the man has such a heavy load to carry emotionally, and does so with impressive grace and dignity. Workman-like, and methodical. Gardner simply tries to get by day by day, taking care of his family's most basic needs: optimistic about the future, while having no means to influence it.

When his wife has enough and leaves, Gardner and his son try to make it alone. Gardner soon realizes he's gotta take control of his own destiny and applies for an internship with a brokerage firm. His perseverance and sales skills pay off, and he lands a paid gig with the firm after an unpaid six month internship. The six months was difficult--he and his son lived in motels and shelters, and on occasion slept in public bathrooms--but the suits at Dean Witter never knew. They simply saw an under-educated guy who knew what he wanted, worked harder than everyone else and brought them in a ton of cash during a short period of time.

They loved him!

And, so did I. Smith's Gardner is a complicated character. Dignified, but humble. Strong, but sometimes unsure. Driven, while sometimes grandiose. Most importantly, though, he has an almost compulsive need to keep his family intact. His drive is less for his own success, and more about providing for his family.

Smith's acting is the best part of the movie. Thandie Newton, who plays Gardner's wife Linda over-acts and, because of that, doesn't connect with the audience. Characters peripheral to the story are never developed. And, there are a couple of plot twists that are just not that believable.

The movie is very good, but not great.

Smith is great, though. I hope he gets recognized for it on Oscar day.


eclectic guy said...

Film geek, I ask for your help on this. Mel has a great idea: what would you choose if you could guest dj EclecTopia for one hour?

Would you care to post this delightful idea to your readers, please?

Oddly, I have been secretly thinking about offering this as a real opportunity, but have not sought out "offical" approval. This could be a kick.

If you deline, I understand. Thanks!

The Film Geek said...

Hey Eclectic Guy: That sounds like a fun idea, and I'll post something Tuesday. Tell me more about it, though, for those of us who live outside the area and may not know what EclecTopia is.

I'm a closet DJ wannabe...might want to enter this myself!

ScreenNation said...

Your comments about Newton are WAY off. Not only was she terrific, but she was the one character that really felt made the audience debate and lots of people understand her even if they didn't like her.

The Film Geek said...

Made the audience debate what?

Her character was one diminsional, didn't call for a great deal of range and wasn't in the movie that long. She was a plot device, used to make the audience more sympathetic to Smith's character and believe his son would be better off with his father than his mother.

And what was there to udnerstand? How selfish a mother has to be to leave her son alone in poverty and with very little hope? C'mon...

Thanks for stopping by, though.

Chris James said...

I've been hearing good things about Smith's son. How did he do in the film?

(BTW, my word verification for this post is "splnsox." Sounds like a license plate for a spleen doctor in Boston.)

The Film Geek said...

Smith's real-life sone was adorable, and did really well in the film. I didn't talk about him mostly because I felt he was used mostly as a prop to keep the audience reminded of Smith's burning need to keep his father/son relationship solid. So, the kid's scenes were pretty brief. There was one very intimate scene where the kid acknowledges his Dad's efforts in a way, and it was really touching.

eclectic guy said...

Film Geek:

Basically, the show is about contemporary music but includes world beat, all forms of electronic, songwriters-as the name implies, very eclectic.

A short definition might be found by listening to a show (Mac users-sorry. Right now, you can't download it.)at
Looking at playlists can say a lot about a show as well.

If you had to DJ one hour of the show, what would you play? I have even considered doing this as an actual contest. Might be fun.