Review: 'Pursuit of Happyness'

Destitution, homelessness and humiliation get the gloss-over, but Will Smith keeps things watchable, in “The Pursuit of Happyness,” a potential true-life sparkler that has been sanitized and sentimentalized into rags-to-riches syrup.

The setting is San Francisco, 1981, when the Rubik’s Cube is the rage, Reaganomics is happening and homeless shelters such as Glide Memorial are filling up with newcomers of every stripe. Inspired by a “20/20” feature, the film chronicles the against-the-odds success story of Chris Gardner (Smith), the real-life devoted dad and American dreamer who overcame immense difficulty and became a thriving financial broker.

The film focuses on his early ascent. Unable to make a living selling bone-density scanners, Chris loses his savings, his marriage and his apartment and winds up homeless with a 5-year-old son (Jaden Christopher Syre Smith, Will’s real-life son) to care for.

There are numerous subjects that this film, whose title reflects a misspelling at a day-care center, might have compellingly explored. But instead, director Gabriele Muccino (“The Last Kiss”) and screenwriter Steven Conrad (“The Weather Man”) serve up slush packaged as uplift.

With the exception of a passage in which father and son use a BART bathroom as lodging, material that contains potential for gritty, quirky or harrowing effect is upstaged by clichés and implausibilities, like chases. And while the younger Smith can tell a knock-knock joke, his cute time comes at the expense of direly needed starker stuff.

As for Will Smith, he’s the best thing here. Both actor and movie star, he nails the hustle element that’s essential to realizing the American dream while also delivering substance. Were this a sharper, deeper, more emotionally truthful film, he might have taken us somewhere riveting.

Credits

The Pursuit of Happyness **

Starring Will Smith, Jaden Christopher Syre Smith, Thandie Newton

Written by Steven Conrad

Directed by Gabriele Muccino

Rated PG-13

Running time 1 hour, 57 minutes

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Lyft to stop accepting cash for Bay Wheels bike rentals

Renting bikeshare in San Francisco will soon only be possible by phone… Continue reading

Big name officials crowd race for tiny Democratic Party board

The San Francisco Democratic Party campaign clown car is rollin’ once again.… Continue reading

Democrats unveil articles of impeachment against Trump for abuse of power, obstruction

WASHINGTON _ House Democrats will charge President Donald Trump with at least… Continue reading

Californians want to end PG&E’s operations as they exist now, new poll says

After years of deadly wildfires and a season of sweeping blackouts, a… Continue reading

Legal challenge halts SFPD jurisdiction over dog attacks on federal land

Dog owners beware — canine attacks are now consequence-free on federal land… Continue reading

Most Read