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The Pursuit of Happyness

Genre: Drama
Rated: PG-13
Directed by
: Gabriele Muccino
Starring: Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Thandie Newton, Brian Howe, James Karen, Dan Castellaneta
Released by: Columbia Pictures

In Short: Will Smith gives a strong performance in this fact-based family drama—yet a lack of dramatic tension keeps it from being a must-see.

Rising From the Ashes
A Heartwarming Movie Perhaps Better Suited to Lifetime

by Jenny Peters

What could make superstar Will Smith grey his hair, don spectacles and play a struggling father circa 1970? The real-life story of successful stockbroker Chris Gardner is what did it, and Smith is already reaping the rewards of that image change, having received Best Actor nominations from both the Golden Globes and the Critics Choice voting bodies. So it seems that shifting his persona has reaped benefits for the talented actor.

Smith gives a heartfelt performance as Gardner, who hit bottom and ended up living on the street along with his young son just as he had succeeded in getting a foot in the door at a large brokerage firm. That unpaid opportunity is too good to pass up, but the struggle to keep it together is nearly too much for the pair to handle. Some dark days follow for father and son as they fight for survival.

There is much to like about the film, including a strong debut performance by Jaden Smith, Will’s real-life son, who gives his role a naturalness that bodes well for his future success if he decides to continue in the family business as he grows up. Thandie Newton is also fine as the wife and mother, who reaches her breaking point and leaves the two to fend for themselves.

The problem with the movie is that there is no real tension. Most savvy moviegoers will know going in that it ends up well in the end—otherwise, we know that Hollywood wouldn’t have made it in the first place. The process of getting to that end is at times heartwrenching, often heartwarming, and definitely a bit too long. And by the time the end credits roll, viewers may feel that “The Pursuit of Happyness” is the sort of nice film that belongs on Lifetime, not on the big screen at $10 a ticket or more.

But of course, with such a high-profile actor like Will Smith in the lead, it had to be a theatrical release. So if seeing Smith shift gears and give a from-the-heart performance is high on your list of things to do this holiday season, check out the film in theaters. But otherwise, this is one that will be just fine on your home screen when it comes to DVD a few months down the line.


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