The Pursuit of Happyness [DVD]
Director : Gabriele Muccino
Screenplay : Steven Conrad
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2006
Stars : Will Smith (Chris Gardner), Jaden Christopher Syre Smith (Christopher), Thandie Newton (Linda), Brian Howe (Jay Twistle), James Karen (Martin Frohm), Dan Castellaneta (Alan Frakesh), Kurt Fuller (Walter Ribbon), Takayo Fischer (Mrs. Chu)
When I say that The Pursuit of Happyness is the cinematic equivalent of comfort food, I mean it in the best sense--sturdy, warm, and rewarding. It doesn’t do anything new or fancy or innovative, but it is solid and reassuring, and what it does it does extremely well.
The film tells the real-life story of Chris Gardner (played by Will Smith, who also co-produced), who in the early 1980s struggled against all odds to complete a highly competitive internship at Dean Witter to become a stock broker. Only 20 people were accepted for the internship, it was unpaid, and at the end of six months 19 of those people had to walk away without a job. That is certainly difficult enough, but Gardner’s wife (Thandie Newton) had recently left him, which meant that he was alone in raising their five-year-old son, Christopher (Jaden Christopher Syre Smith, Will Smith’s real-life son). Not only that, but Gardner’s financial struggles were nearly suffocating, to the point that he and his son ended up sleeping in homeless shelters at night, a fact that he successfully kept secret from the affluent businessmen with which he worked every day.
In its up-from-the-ashes narrative about the rewards of hard work and diligence, not to mention the unflagging belief in the betterment of one’s self, The Pursuit of Happyness is solid Americana to its core, embracing a set of cherished values that above all give hope that all is never lost. Personally, I couldn’t think of a more miserable existence than being a stock broker (I don’t care how much money you can make), so it is testament to the film’s power at its best moments that Chris’s dream of being part of Wall Street works as such an effective metonym for all those dreams that keep us moving forward. And, while there is no denying that the monetary rewards are central to the dream (Chris first gets the idea to pursue the profession when he meets a stock broker in a cherry red Ferrari), the film’s focus is on self-fulfillment.
Under the direction of Gabriele Muccino, who is making his English-language debut after writing and directing a number of domestic melodramas in his native Italy, Will Smith holds the center of the film together with an assured performance that is both uplifting and heartbreaking. More than anything, he embodies a man who wants to do the right thing, especially in raising his son, and that central core of goodness is what propels him through the worst of the worst. This is not to say that he doesn’t have his moments; he breaks down, gets angry, causes his son to lose his beloved Captain American doll. At the same time, though, he has moments of brilliance, such as the poignant scene in which he pretends that he and Christopher have gone back in time so that he can turn a men’s bathroom in a subway terminal into a prehistoric cave where they can sleep for the night.
In boiling Chris Gardner’s real-life story into the strict confines of the traditional Hollywood narrative, screenwriter Steven Conrad (The Weather Man) has unarguably cut a few corners, particularly in the way he downplays race. It is hard to believe that Chris’s being African-American was such a non-issue, especially in the white-bread world of finance at the dawn of the Reagan decade. However, the downplaying of the race card allows other themes in the film to bloom, particularly the notion that dedication rewards, regardless of color. That’s a bit of pie-in-the-sky thinking, I know, but it is precisely the fuel that keeps The Pursuit of Happyness churning--not just hurdling the roadblocks of cynicism and despair, but bowling them over.
|The Pursuit of Happyness DVD|
|The Pursuit of Happyness is available in separate widescreen and pan-and-scan editions.|
|Subtitles||English, Spanish, French|
|Distributor||Sony Pictures Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||March 27, 2007|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|The anamorphic widescreen transfer of The Pursuit of Happyness looks as a good as one could expect. It is sharp and vibrant, with excellent color and detail throughout. The impressive on-location photography in San Francisco that gives the film its texture and liveliness looks fantastic. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack is also very strong. There aren’t a lot of sound effects outside the ambient noise of city life, but dialogue is always clear and Andrea Guerra’s well-utilized musical score is given a rich spaciousness.|
|At the very beginning of his commentary, director Gabriele Muccino says the hopes his heavy Italian accent won’t cause “too many troubles” for the listener. It doesn’t at all, as Muccino’s commentary is an insightful, thoughtful track that illuminates his thorough and empathetic understanding of the story and characters (although it’s too bad they couldn’t get Smith to contribute to the commentary, as well, since he and Muccino seemed to have such an excellent working relationship and Smith was so integral in hiring Muccino). There are also several featurettes included about the making of the film. “Making Pursuit: An Italian Take on the American Dream” (17 min.) is a standard behind-the-scenes doc that includes interviews with Will Smith, coproducer James Lassiter, and director Gabriele Muccino, among others. The main focus of the doc is Muccino and how he approached such a typically American story from a European perspective. “Father and Son: On Screen and Off” (7 min.) looks at the working and personal relationship between Smith and his son, while “The Man Behind the Movie: A Conversation With Chris Gardner” (13 min.) shows the real-life Gardner’s experiences working on the movie and how difficult it was at times to see the lowest points of his life being re-enacted for the camera. The most memorable featurette, though, has little to do with the film itself. “Inside the Rubik’s Cude” (7 min.) features interviews with enthusiasts of the ’80s-era multi-colored puzzle toy, including one guy (called a “speed cuber”) who can solve a Rubik’s Cube in less than 30 seconds and another who can (and I’m not kidding here) solve one blindfolded in two minutes. Finally, the disc includes a song by Bebe Winans and Dave Koz called “I Can” that was inspired by the film, but did not appear in it.|
Copyright ©2007 James Kendrick
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