Pursuit of Happyness Review

by Homer Yen (homer_yen AT yahoo DOT com)
December 18th, 2006

"Pursuit of Happyness" - Your Inalienable Right
by Homer Yen
(c) 2006

Do you notice that the word "happYness" in the
title is misspelled? It has the letter Y instead
of the letter I. Maybe it's because the
filmmaker wants you to focus on the word:
"happy". After all, everyone wants to feel good
and this is an inspiring, feel-good movie if
there ever was one. But I have my own theory, as
I pondered this simple twist of letters. And,
I'll reveal that at the end of this review. So,
read on!

"The Pursuit of Happyness" is the biopic of a
chapter in Chris Gardner's (played by Will Smith) life. He's an all-around deserving guy. He's invested his life savings into a business
opportunity that involves bone-density scanners. During this time period, in the early 1980s, it's
not a hot-selling item. They are unwieldy; not
widely accepted by the medical community as of
yet; and at a selling price of $250 each, the
profit margin seems small even by Reagan-era standards. Once brimming with hope, his lack of progress has begun to winnow down his savings to
a point of financial despair. The rent is two
months late, he can barely pay for child-care,
his wife (Thandie Newton) is now pulling double-shifts. Ramen noodles seem like a luxury.
It seems so unfair given his analytical brain
and relentless work ethic.

Sometimes, the decline of a man is really his ascension. And then one question has the power
to change his life when he sees a successful and
happy businessman on the street. Chris asks,
"What do you do and how do you do it?" When he
finds out that this man's success is not a series
of collegiate degrees but just having some basic
math skills and being good with people, Chris
sees his chance to change his future.

This involves scoring an opportunity to enter the highly competitive Dean Whitter internship
program. And, oh my gosh, this is an incredibly competitive environment as well as a killer
business model for Dean Whitter. The interns,
all of them unpaid for 6 months, are given random
call lists, which each candidate must contact and
try to do whatever they can to meet, greet, and
secure new accounts for their brokerage. He postulates ideas to maximize his productivity, including not hanging up the phone but merely depressing the little plastic nubs by the handset
in order to quickly make the next call. This
will give him an additional 8 minutes of time
each day. And, he theorizes, that he won't drink
any water from the water cooler. That may cause
him to go to the bathroom, which is precious productivity time forever lost. Every company
needs a Chris Gardner.

"When you got a dream, you've got to protect it."
This is the most important piece of advice that
any one can give. It keeps you moving forward,
or at least will keep you sane in the face of insanity, as exemplified by his shrieking wife (Thandie Newton) who believes that his chances of success are about the same as he becoming an astronaut.

There are a series of almost-insuperable
obstacles. But, they are never greater than the
size of his heart. And the sight of Chris
fighting the fight for his adorable son (played
by Will Smith's real-life son) just makes you
want to urge him onwards. In essence, this man
is a hero in my book. With a huge compelling
reason and the heart of a lion, I am reminded of
that tragic story of the father of the Kim family
who ventured out into the snowy Oregon mountains
to try to find help after he and his family
became snowed in and stranded in their car for
10+ days. Mr. Kim's story, unfortunately,
doesn't have a happy ending. But Gardner's
journey is sublime and genuinely poignant.

We've been treated to many films about underdogs recently. Some are triumphant like "Akeelah and
the Bee" and some are less-engrossing-but-still-effective like
"Invincible". This one has the same arc and the
same kind of predictability. Still, when Chris ultimately triumphs over all of his
embarrassments and setbacks, Will Smith caps off
the film with one of the most moving scenes this
year, which will certainly garner the Academy's attention. The fact that we know how it's going
to end and the resulting swelling of joy that we
feel is a real credit to the subject material and
Will Smith's charming-without-being-treacley

Ok, and finally, what about my theory behind the spelling of 'happyness' with the letter 'y'?
Chris is successful because everything he did was
not for himself. It wasn't for the "I".
Instead, he had a young son to take care of and
his promise to keep. And so, now he's talking
about his "WHY". The WHY is always more
important than the I. And that's a lesson that
some people unfortunately never learn. There are
so many good nuggets to be absorbed here, and you should take a notebook with you and even watch
this film three times. Chris Gardner was just an ordinary fellow with a huge compelling reason.
He takes away all the excuses. And that includes
any excuses you may have for not being successful
and, at the very least, any excuses to not see
this uplifting film. Happ'y'ness is always a
worthy pursuit.

Grade: A-

S: 0 out of 3
L: 1 out of 3
V: 1 out of 3

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