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A heartwarming film that demonstrates how good, hard-working people can become homeless almost overnight, Pursuit of Happyness is a tour-de-force showcase for Will Smith, who convincingly portrays a down-and-out dad trying to better his family’s life. Smith, who usually is cast in effortlessly boyish roles (Men in Black, Independence Day), is wonderful in the film–even in the scenes that shamelessly tug at viewers’ heartstrings. Based on the true-life story of Chris Gardner, a San Francisco salesman forced at times to shelter his young son (played by Smith’s adorable look-alike offspring Jaden Smith) in a men’s room, there is little suspense to the film in terms of Chris’ outcome. (His story and eventual success a successful and wealthy Chicago businessman was well-publicized on the newsmagazine show 20/20.) And let’s face it, Hollywood’s not too keen on making feel-good movies with unhappy endings.
The beauty (and suspense, to a certain extent) of this film is in the way the story is told. Though he is constantly rushing around to get to appointments and pick up his child, things do not happen quickly for Chris. When he accepts an internship with a prestigious stock brokerage firm, there’s a catch: The position is unpaid, suitable more for trust-fund children than single parents with no other source of income. In many scenes, the viewer panics along with Chris, wondering how he’s going to feed his child. While Smith and his son, Jaden, share many tender moments together, Thandie Newton has the thankless role of playing Chris’ shrill wife, who deserts her family early in the film. It’s not a particularly challenging part for the talented actress, and her departure doesn’t impact the storyline much at all. As for the movie’s misspelled title, it’s inspired from a scene in the film. (Seeing a mural drawn by the children at a daycare center, Chris points out to the proprietor that “happiness” is spelled incorrectly. She notes that it doesn’t matter how the word is written–just that the kids have it.) With Pursuit of Happyness, Smith has come out of his safety zone and, in turn, ends up playing his most heroic role to date. –Jae-Ha Kim