The Pursuit of Happiness
Will Smith plays a San Francisco medical equipment salesman who resolves to change his life and become a stockbroker, but is made homeless in the process
The sort of film the Oscars are designed for, The Pursuit Of Happiness should induce nausea. There's the cheesy dialogue （“You want something, go get it - period!”）。 There's the annoying title, with its deliberate misspelling （a reference to a slogan seen on a wall that becomes the film's mantra）。 And there's the father and son acting combo of Will Smith and seven-year-old Jaden, who between them serve unapologetically as an advert for the American dream. Yet thanks to Italian director Gabriele Muccino, in his first Hollywood outing, the film holds firm.
Set in San Francisco in 1981, at a time when the Rubik's Cube is sweeping the nation, the film is inspired by the real-life story of one Chris Gardner （Smith）。 A struggling Bay Area salesman, Gardner's product is a “portable bone density scanner”, a box of tricks which he believes doctors will soon be clamouring for. But luck deserts Gardner alongside his wife Linda （Newton） and a hippie girl steals one of his scanners.
Left with custody of his five-year-old son Christopher （Smith）， Gardner is desperate to be a good father, as he didn't know his own Dad until he was 28. A chance encounter with a stockbroker inspires Gardner to change career and secure an internship at a brokerage. Remarkably, he manages to get onto the six-month course, but it's a gamble. “There was no salary,” he says. “Not even a reasonable promise of a job.” Forced to sell his remaining machines on the weekends, he and Christopher live on the poverty line, and are evicted after Gardner is hit with a crippling tax bill. Looked at cynically, the film boasts one of those heavyweight performances that Hollywood A-list stars occasionally offer in a quest for cachet. In this case Smith lets his hair go grey to convince us that this is no vanity project. But bonding convincingly （as you might expect） with his own son on screen, Smith delivers his most compelling performance since Ali in 2001. Playing Gardner as a decent, honest man who refuses to let life grind him down, it's an inspirational turn.
With Muccino （best known for 2001's L'Ultimo Bacio, which was remade in the US in 2005 as The Last Kiss） in charge, Smith's acting is shorn of the usual high-energy tics that have blighted his work. So enchanting is the performance that it overshadows the film's more problematic and manipulative moments, notably the contention that capitalism holds the key to happiness. But this is Will Smith doing Kramer Vs. Kramer and the film never allows us to contemplate its dubious nature for too long.
Between Muccino's sensitive direction and Smith and son's expertly calibrated performances, The Pursuit Of Happiness manages to win you over with a flurry of feel good emotions.