Sunday, March 11, 2007


RUNTIME: 117 min.
RATING: ***1/2

I don’t know whether the “Inspired by a True Story” was deliberate or not because what I have come across is “Based on a True Story” movies tend to be bland and bad. Taking the true story of Christopher Gardner as the inspiration, Italian filmmaker Gabriele Muccino has crafted a nice movie; rather one of the better movies around based on true stories and more importantly the father-son relationship. Although the shadow of Roberto Benigni’s masterpiece LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL does make its presence felt, this is a movie told straight from the heart. The movie sure does feel contrived in places but still it is heartfelt, thanks to a fantastic performance from Will Smith and the wonderful chemistry between him and his real life eight-year-old son Jaden Smith. As a matter of fact, many of the movie’s manipulative scenes are salvaged to a huge extent, thanks to the quite heartrending chemistry between them. The most remarkable thing I could say is that neither the relation nor the movie ever gets saccharine sweet or melodramatic. It remains remarkably grounded despite some quite outlandish sequences, a thing that reminded me very much of LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL.
THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS, although based on a true premise plays out more like a fairy tale, a dark one and that is a good thing. It is the true story of a man barely making ends meet during the tumultuous economic period of the early Reagan era. Chris Gardner hasn’t paid his bills, his rent is pending, he has to pay his pending car tickets and he has to fulfill a contract that involves selling some medical machine, that as Gardner puts it is marginally better than the then existing X-ray machine. When his constantly nagging wife Linda (Thandie Newton) leaves him in the sole custody of his son, it is up to Gardner to come out of all the hard times that also involves living on the streets. He manages to get into a program for internship at a prestigious firm for brokers called Dean Witter. Although the future is bright if he gets a job, the stipend they pay is a pittance and Gardner has to go through every hardship there is, along with being a good father to his son.
THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS tries to be more profound than it actually is. The whole idea of the movie seems quite shallow. The moral of THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS as Gardner tells his son on a basketball field is that never to let anybody let you tell that you can’t pursue your dream. The message sure feels shallow. There have been a zillion better movies, notably some of the wonderful animated movies from Pixar and Walt Disney which have been doing the same thing in an infinitely more convincing manner. Plus the “Pursuit of happiness” is equivalent to Pursuit of richness which doesn’t sound too true in my book.
I am not a big fan of Smith but this has got to be his best performance, other than of course ALI. Smith has been nominated for the Academy award and he so mighty deserved it. His son, if this movie is anything to go by, sure is one to watch out for the future. Jaden Smith gives a fantastic performance. Thandie Newton is a sore in the eye. She in fact is the film’s weakest link. I was so put of by her that I almost wanted to get out of the theatre whenever she came on the screen. She tries to conjure all the expressions she has, which by the way are quite few, and gives a quiet pathetic performance. Thanks to the real Linda that she left Gardner and ended Thandie Newton’s role.
There’re quite a few put offs in the film. First is the unnecessary voiceover that no way witty feels forced. “This part of my life is running, this part is riding the bus” and all that nonsense is what seems quite okay at the outset but just keeps getting a bit onto your nerve. Then there’s the length. As a matter of fact, Muccino had himself a screenplay that could have been infinitely more effective with at least half an hour reduced. The journey seems real long, almost dreary with one setback after another. The eventual payoff, that although quite nicely done with Smith being quite fantastic is always expected. The movie would have been better off with one or two of the hardships kept for the “deleted scenes” section of the DVD.
Nevertheless, the father-son relation always keeps you warm. THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS might have its intentions to inspire but I found the father son element more touching. There’re real poignant scenes that really break your heart and all that due to Will Smith and Jaden Smith. They keep everything so natural yet so emotionally warm.
Everything including the direction and the screenplay are quite predictable and fall in line as you expect but the thing that matters is it is all done earnestly. It is one of those feel good movies that sure makes you feel good. But the thing I appreciated the most was that although the movie has been highly fictionalized from Gardner’s story, it keeps far away from usual melodramas that Hollywood movies of these kind so decidedly contain. There isn’t a villain who is against Gardner and is plotting to impede him. THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS pursues itself far from these pit holes and keeps whatever it is showing quite real. The movie does contain some sequences that shouldn’t be there. And Christopher Gardner has gone on to write his own book on THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS which I believe has more details after he gets his job. That I guess would be a better story but this one here isn’t too bad either. If not for anything else, watch it just for the father-son duo. They’ll melt your heart. And if they don’t, please consult a doctor.

1 comment:

Satish Jha said...

nahin hua heart melt ab batao kisske milen ..hehe

loved the review dude