The implication of inspiration is a concurrent, reactionary moment that Will Smith fails to capitalise on throughout The Pursuit of Happyness. His chasing of opportunities, or lack thereof, is the notoriously obvious gut punch this feature strikes out on. For his lengthy time at the top, Smith has been awarded few opportunities to engage with anything fantastic. Little space to push the fold of what he is capable of. Hitch and Gemini Man don’t quite cut it when the emotionally active lead needs representing. The Pursuit of Happyness, then, is his best shot. It works only when its emotions are leaking and abused. Only when audiences are cajoled into straining the tears from their eyes as Smith and son Jaden tug at the heartstrings does The Pursuit of Happyness really work.
Narration guides many of the early moments, “part of my life story,” Chris Gardner (Smith) says. He is armed with nothing but a medical device, and in the 1980s that is a grand commodity to hold. Wandering from hospital to hospital trying to sell a poor x-ray machine doesn’t quite work out but he is buoyed by false hope. Selling two scanners a day will keep his family in housing and daycare, and it is the downturn of the economy that has its harsh hitting impact on this family man. Gardner is the man trying his best, and it is easy to connect with that. Director Gabriele Muccino depends on that entirely. That hope audiences will drift through and immediately like Smith and his acting, his personality inflicted onto Gardner nothing more than the usual down-on-his-luck family man mentality.
All of the workings in The Pursuit of Happyness depend entirely on Smith managing the story and plot. How well his performance is delivered ultimately decides the quality of the film. Easy enough it may be for Smith to tee up and knock off the idea that wealth is happiness, The Pursuit of Happyness reveals all too soon. The man with the flash car wearing a huge smile and smart suit is the epitome of success, and the weak line between financial and personal growth is a delicate one that is too heavy-handed for The Pursuit of Happyness. At least there is a real drive to try and pursue that line of reasoning, why money would bring happiness to someone down on their luck and fighting with their family because it is an intricate series of setpieces that Smith and Thandiwe Newton are up to the task of handling.
Oddly enough, to showcase homelessness and the drive of character-fuelled dramatics is to look down on not the objective of those in trouble but the reasons for it. The Pursuit of Happyness is well-meaning and emotionally broad, but the set pieces and displays of such are particularly obvious and oblivious to the wider problems. It is not all about dusting yourself down and carrying on as though the emotional toll is not affecting anyone; it is about acceptance of position. Taking stock of what cards have been dealt and building from there. The highs and lows are choreographed with general simplicity, the risks taken in trusting strangers and the pay-off that was just around the corner for a man dedicated to bettering himself and his life.