05 February 2007
  the pursuit of happyness

with all of the attention abigail breslin is getting for her brief performance in little miss sunshine, i wonder why jaden smith hasn't gotten the same consideration for his roll in the pursuit of happyness. like breslin, his roll in the film is admittedly a small supporting one. but he is at least as cute as she is and actually does a little more acting than she does. it is no surprise to anyone that i am not a member of the cult of sunshine, and i think breslin's nomination was pretty ludicrous. if there is a young actor in hollywood that has shown potential this year, in my book it is smith.

in general, this is a movie that is all about the performances of its stars. the story is at best predictable. i have seen this same movie made at least a half dozen times on lifetime and the hallmark hall of fame. what really makes this movie special is its great cast: thandie newton, will smith and his son. will smith shows here that he is a potentially brilliant actor. he is able to take a roll that is steeped in cliche and actually give depth and meaning to it. and surprisingly he does this by showing weakness. i expected smith to walk into this roll as some sort of superhero, but by showing his humanness, he really broke out of the mold of the rags to riches genre.

the story here is well known. will smith is a medical equipment salesman in san francisco, trying unsuccessfully if tenaciously to unload a piece of equipment that noone really needs. almost on a whim smith decides that he needs to take a new path, and he applies for an internship at a stock brokerage. thandie newton, his wife gets fed up and moves to new york, leaving her husband to take care of their son by himself. although the internship is unpaid, smith decides to accept it anyway. the journey is predictably tragic. i won't spoil the ending, but i am sure you can figure it out for yourself.

surprisingly, i wasn't put off much by the predictability of this urban fable. it was the unpredictability of the characters themselves that kept me interested. in short, it is a mediocre script that is saved by its performers. thandie newton, for example, takes the moment where she abandons her family and, instead of appearing heartless, actually made me feel sympathetic to her. will smith, instead of seeming selfless in his quest to provide for his family against all odds, creates these lapses of sheer selfishness that give real depth to his character. i mean, there are moments like this throughout the film.

even though i wasn't ecstatic about happyness, it definitely had plenty of cute moments and some pretty funny punchlines. it makes for a lighthearted sunday afternoon flick (just after steel magnolias and before fried green tomatoes). i keep thinking that if the will smith character could have been changed to a woman then this would have made a great vehicle for judith light on lifetime. still, in its current state it is worth a watch if only to see the smith boys give two great performances. plus, it always feels nice to have a good cry.
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