The Pursuit of Happyness Reviews
The film centers on Will Smith and his real life son Jaden. He's a salesman, and his wife works in some sort of domestic job. They're barely making ends meet, and on top of all that, they have a five year old son. They feel as though the world is against them, but they have no idea how to get out of their slump. They thought they could achieve the American dream by getting rich quick - by selling bone scanners, but in fact, it's not as simple as that. Will and his wife separate, and Will is left alone to take care of his son. So because his first get rich quick scheme didn't work out, he decides to invest in another one. This time, he wants to become a multimillionaire stock broker. He signs up for a 9am-5pm internship that's unpaid for six months, and he has to win the full time position out of 20 other interns. The odds are clearly against him, but he rises to the challenge and gets the internship. Even though it breaks and drives him to the edge, he does whatever it takes to get himself and for his son out of poverty.
It's easy to like this premise. It's clearly about the American dream, which is, if you just try and work hard enough, (even if what you're doing is totally crazy, and irresponsible) things will work out for even the most disadvantaged people. It's important to remember that this is a story coming out from the 1980s, when the gap between the have and the have-nots was widening tremendously. So, for a man to pull this off is nothing short of a miracle. Viewers must also remember that this is a story about one man - one man out of millions of millions of people who want this dream too. But quite unfairly, the movie seems as though this can happen to anyone. That's where it gets problematic. Not everyone can pull themselves out of poverty, and become a multi millionaire. There are thousands of homeless people shown in the movie, but the movie doesn't show sympathy for them, just the main character. The people you are supposed to admire are the rich, white men, who Will so desperately wants to be. But in reality, if those rich people were actually nice, he would feel safe with telling them about his situation. They would be empathetic, rather than write him off. But we never see that. We never see Will explaining his situation, instead we see him trying to cover it up. We see the white wealthy men jerking him around by the neck, asking him to get coffee, spending five dollars he doesn't have, all the while rooting for Will to be one of them, and seeing the white men as the saviors of Will.
One thing I do like about the movie is that it shows how life can just pile up sometimes. My favorite scene in the movie is when Will has to go to the interview for the internship in painting clothes. First, he had to paint the apartment in order to get a longer grace period on his rent, and then the police came to his house because he had to pay parking tickets. When he was at the station, he had to stay overnight in the work clothes, and thus, had to go to the interview looking "unprofessional." This perfectly illustrates how hard Will's life is, and how hard most people's lives are. Sometimes you can't help how hectic things get, and just have to go with the flow as best you can.
I also think the bone density machine is a good symbol, but maybe it's too obvious. His past is literally weighing him down, but it's the only thing that can help in have enough money to survive into the future. When the light bulb is fixed and goes on in the machine during one of Will's most trying times, it's clear that he can let his past go, and move on. I like it, but for me, it's just too obvious, same with the Captain America doll that Jaden loves so much. It's supposed to be ironic, these two poverty stricken men still believe in the "American Dream." But later, when Jaden loses it running for the bus, I guess the director wanted to say that maybe we can't always have hope? It's ambiguous.
But with every good thing in the movie, there's an equally upsetting part. What takes me out of the movie most is the questionable parenting. I understand that it's hard to be a parent in a crucial situation. I've never been in poverty, but I just wonder why Will thinks that when he has almost zero dollars in his bank account, that's the time to risk it all. What does he have to lose? I don't know, maybe his son? I could understand if he was alone, and didn't have to be responsible for anyone but himself, but he also has a child, a growing child who needs attention and proper nutrition, a place to sleep. It's unfair to judge people who have it so hard, but I just find it irresponsible of the movie to show people that this is an "inspiring tale." Put your needs in front of your kids' because it'll all work out in the end. What if he didn't succeed? Then he would just be seen as an asshole for not having a logical back up plan.
I think it's also important to bring up the time period. They don't make many references to the 80s which is actually nice. It doesn't make the 80s feel like one big joke. They also talk about classism. In the 80s there was great prosperity for the wealthy, but the poorer seemed to be getting zilch. This can be seen in a few subtle scenes. One of them is when one of the higher ups at the company Will wants to work for, doesn't realize the importance a five dollar bill can make. For Will that's his and his son's dinner, but for the boss, that's pocket change. They also have another simple scene with wealthy people driving in a Mercedes convertible past the homeless shelter. I really like how they illustrate the class struggle. But rather than show what's keeping the poor people down, they glamorize the wealthy.
To wrap up, I like the movie. Of course it's realistic for that one person, but not realistic for everyone. I also think that Jaden and Will acted very well. No one felt out of place, and the acting was never forced. It was all really natural and believable. Lastly, let's talk about the title, The Pursuit of Happyness. I won't spoil why there's a "y" instead of an "i," but it is obvious that this quote is from Thomas Jefferson from when he was writing the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson plays an important part of the story because Will quotes him so much. They also have close ups of nickels, where you can see Jefferson's profile. I do think it's important that he's in there. Not only because he wrote the title of the movie, but because he was all about individuality - being your own man, and making something for yourself without anyone else's help. It's solely up to the individual to rise up, which is exactly what happens in the film. Whether you agree with that or not, it's important to keep Jefferson in mind while viewing the film. Overall, I give the film an 8/10. It's well meaning, but the messages are manipulative.