Putting everything on the line in The Pursuit of Happyness

Will Smith and his real-life son Jaden will melt your heart in THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS, an affecting true story about the struggles of a single dad and his young son in 1981 America.

Gosh, this movie – THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS – reduces me to tears every time I see it. You may think that makes me a bit of a softie and you’d be right. But it’s such a wonderfully emotional film. It popped up in the TV schedules recently and I couldn’t help watching it again and yes, you guessed it, blubbing at the end. Anyway, how can you not be affected as you witness the struggles of a single dad and his very young son to survive and make a better life for themselves in the America of 1981?

Will Smith and Jaden Smith as Chris Gardner and his son Christopher

Chris Gardner (Will Smith is a revelation with his moving performance) is a salesman in San Francisco who thinks he’s struck lucky by investing in a medical device called a ‘bone density scanner’. However, he finds selling these is a lot more challenging than he envisaged. As he struggles to make enough money for his family, his wife Linda (a brilliantly brittle performance by Thandie Newton) becomes increasingly dissatisfied with their life and her role within it. Reaching breaking point one day, she leaves for New York, walking out on Chris and their 5-year-old son Christopher (an absolutely adorable turn from Will Smith’s real-life son Jaden) realising that Chris will take better care of him than she can.

When Chris doesn’t have enough money to pay the rent though, he loses their apartment and he and Christopher are forced out onto the streets. Juggling motel rooms and homeless shelters, a possible lifeline to end their situation may be a role at the investment firm Dean Witter. But then Chris discovers that the stockbroker internship program he’ll have to undertake for six months before any possibility of a job is unpaid. And at the end of the program, only one person is offered a role in the company. So Chris has to weigh up whether to put everything into this opportunity and try to survive whilst he’s on the internship, in the hope that he’ll succeed. When I mention though that Chris is a very smart and driven individual, this may give you a hint that you know where THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS ends up, but wait till you see the journey that Chris and Christopher go on to get there – it will really move you.

I get choked up just writing the synopsis because I think director Gabriele Muccino does a perfect job in never over-sentimentalising the story but rather punctuating the film with humour – something that Smith does so brilliantly – in counterpoint to the scenes of hardship that the father and son go through. This is also evident in the beautifully balanced script by Steve Conrad (who achieved a similar feat with The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) and the way his dialogue is delivered pitch-perfectly by real-life father and son Will and Jaden Smith, is something very special.

If you’ve never seen THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS, track it down on-demand or give it a try next time it’s on TV. It’s a total gem.