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The Pursuit of Happyness is a 2006 American biographical drama film based on Chris Gardner's
nearly one-year struggle with homelessness. Directed by Gabriele Muccino, the film features
Will Smith as Gardner, an on-and-off-homeless salesman. Smith's son Jaden Smith co-stars,
making his film debut as Gardner's son, Christopher Jr.
The screenplay by Steven Conrad is based on the best-selling memoir written by Gardner
with Quincy Troupe. The film was released on December 15, 2006, by Columbia Pictures.
For his performance, Smith was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for Best
Actor. The unusual spelling of the film's title comes from graffiti on a wall that Chris
sees near the beginning of the film. In the movie, "happiness" is incorrectly spelled
as "happyness" on the wall outside the daycare facility Gardner's son attends.
Synopsis In 1981, San Francisco, salesman Chris Gardner
invests his entire life savings in portable bone-density scanners which he demonstrates
to doctors and pitches as a handy quantum leap over standard X-rays. While he is able
to sell most of them, the time lag between the sales and his growing financial demands
enrage his already bitter and alienated wife Linda, who works as a hotel maid. The lack
of a stable financial state increasingly erodes their marriage, in spite of them caring for
their five-year old son, Christopher. While downtown trying to sell one of the scanners,
Gardner meets Jay Twistle, a manager for Dean Witter Reynolds and impresses him by solving
a Rubik's Cube during a short taxi ride. After Jay leaves, Gardner lacks money to pay the
fare, and chooses to run, resulting in the driver chasing him into a subway station.
Gardner boards a train but loses one of his scanners in the process. His new relationship
with Jay earns him the chance to become an intern stockbroker. The day before the interview,
Gardner grudgingly agrees to paint his apartment so as to postpone moving out due to his difficulty
in paying the rent. While painting, Gardner is greeted by the police at his doorstep,
who brings him to the station, stating he has to pay for his numerous parking tickets
he has accumulated. As part of the sanction, Gardner is ordered to spend the night in jail,
complicating his schedule for the interview the next morning. He manages to arrive at
Dean Witter's office on time, albeit still in his shabby clothes. Despite his appearance,
he impresses the interviewers, and lands an internship. He will be amongst 20 interns
competing for a paid position as a broker. Gardner's unpaid internship does not please
Linda, who eventually leaves for New York. After Gardner bluntly says she is incapable
of being a single mother, she agrees that Christopher will remain with his father. Gardner
is further set back when his bank account is garnished by the IRS for unpaid income
taxes, and he and his young son are evicted. He ends up with less than thirty dollars,
resulting in them being homeless, and are forced at one point to stay in a restroom
at a subway station. Other days, he and Christopher spend nights at a homeless shelter, in a subway,
or, if he manages to procure cash, at a hotel. Later, Gardner finds the bone scanner that
he lost in the subway station and, after repairing it, sells it to a physician, thus completing
all his sales of his scanners. Disadvantaged by his limited work hours, and
knowing that maximizing his client contacts and profits is the only way to earn the broker
position, Gardner develops a number of ways to make phone sales calls more efficiently,
including reaching out to potential high value customers, defying protocol. One sympathetic
prospect who is a top-level pension fund manager even takes him and his son to a San Francisco
49ers game. Regardless of his challenges, he never reveals his lowly circumstances to
his colleagues, even going so far as to lend one of his bosses five dollars for a cab,
a sum he cannot afford. Concluding his internship, Gardner is called into a meeting with his
managers. One of them notes he is wearing a new shirt. Gardner explains it is his last
day and thought to dress for the occasion. The manager smiles and says he should wear
it again tomorrow, letting him know he has won the coveted full-time position. Fighting
back tears, Gardner shakes hands with them, then rushes to his son's daycare to embrace
Christopher. They walk down the street, joking with each other and are passed by a man in
a business suit. The epilogue reveals that Gardner went on to form his own multi-million
dollar brokerage firm. Cast
Will Smith as Chris Gardner Jaden Smith as Christopher Gardner Jr.
Thandie Newton as Linda Gardner Brian Howe as Jay
Dan Castellaneta as Alan Frakesh James Karen as Martin Frohm
Kurt Fuller as Walter Ribbon Takayo Fischer as Mrs. Chu
Production
Development Chris Gardner realized his story had Hollywood
potential after an overwhelming national response to an interview he did with 20/20 in January
2002. He published his autobiography on May 23, 2006, and later became an associate producer
for the film. The movie took some liberties with Gardner's true life story. Certain details
and events that actually took place over the span of several years were compressed into
a relatively short time and although eight-year-old Jaden portrayed Chris as a five-year-old,
Gardner's son was just a toddler at the time. Casting
Chris Gardner reportedly thought Smith, an actor best known for his performances in action
movies, was miscast to play him. However, he said his daughter Jacintha "set him straight"
by saying, "If Smith can play Muhammad Ali, he can play you!"
Filming Gardner makes a cameo appearance in the film,
walking past Will and Jaden in the final scene. Gardner and Will acknowledge each other; Will
then looks back at Gardner walking away as his son proceeds to tell him knock-knock jokes.
Music Varèse Sarabande released a soundtrack album
with the score composed by Andrea Guerra on January 9, 2007.
Also in the film are brief portions of "Higher Ground" and "Jesus Children of America", both
sung by Stevie Wonder. Deviation from actual events
Although generally faithful to the series of events, many subtle details deviate from
the actual event. Examples include:
The age of Chris' son: in the film he is five years old whereas in reality he was two years
old. The arrest of Chris: in the film he was arrested
for unpaid parking tickets whereas in reality he was visited by police on charges of domestic
abuse and later found to have unpaid parking tickets.
The income of Chris: in the film he is shown selling bone density scanners whereas in reality,
while he sold medical supplies, he never sold a bone density scanner.
Release Box office
The film debuted first at the North American box office, earning $27 million during its
opening weekend and beating out heavily promoted films such as Eragon and Charlotte's Web.
It was Smith's sixth consecutive #1 opening and one of Smith's consecutive $100 million
blockbusters. The film grossed $162,586,036 domestically in the US and Canada. In the
hope Gardner's story would inspire the down-trodden citizens of Chattanooga, Tennessee to achieve
financial independence and to take greater responsibility for the welfare of their families,
the mayor of Chattanooga organized a viewing of the film for the city's homeless. Gardner
himself felt that it was imperative to share his story for the sake of its widespread social
issues. "When I talk about alcoholism in the household, domestic violence, child abuse,
illiteracy, and all of those issues—those are universal issues; those are not just confined
to ZIP codes," he said. Home media
The film was released on DVD on March 27, 2007 and as of November 2007, US Region 1
DVD sales accounted for an additional $89,923,088 in revenue, slightly less than half of what
was earned in its first week of release. About 5,570,577 units have been sold, bringing in
$90,582,602 in revenue. Reception
Critical response The film was received generally positively
by critics. Film review site Rotten Tomatoes calculated a 67% overall approval based on
171 reviews. In the San Francisco Chronicle, Mick LaSalle
observed, "The great surprise of the picture is that it's not corny . . . The beauty of
the film is its honesty. In its outlines, it's nothing like the usual success story
depicted on-screen, in which, after a reasonable interval of disappointment, success arrives
wrapped in a ribbon and a bow. Instead, this success story follows the pattern most common
in life — it chronicles a series of soul-sickening failures and defeats, missed opportunities,
sure things that didn't quite happen, all of which are accompanied by a concomitant
accretion of barely perceptible victories that gradually amount to something. In other
words, it all feels real." Manohla Dargis of The New York Times called
the film "a fairy tale in realist drag . . . the kind of entertainment that goes down smoothly
until it gets stuck in your craw . . . It's the same old bootstraps story, an American
dream artfully told, skillfully sold. To that calculated end, the film making is seamless,
unadorned, transparent, the better to serve Mr. Smith's warm expressiveness . . . How
you respond to this man's moving story may depend on whether you find Mr. Smith's and
his son's performances so overwhelmingly winning that you buy the idea that poverty is a function
of bad luck and bad choices, and success the result of heroic toil and dreams."
Peter Travers of Rolling Stone awarded the film three out of a possible four stars and
commented, "Smith is on the march toward Oscar . . . [His] role needs gravity, smarts, charm,
humor and a soul that's not synthetic. Smith brings it. He's the real deal."
In Variety, Brian Lowry said the film "is more inspirational than creatively inspired—imbued
with the kind of uplifting, afterschool-special qualities that can trigger a major toothache
. . . Smith's heartfelt performance is easy to admire. But the movie's painfully earnest
tone should skew its appeal to the portion of the audience that, admittedly, has catapulted
many cloying TV movies into hits . . . In the final accounting, [it] winds up being
a little like the determined salesman Mr. Gardner himself: easy to root for, certainly,
but not that much fun to spend time with." Kevin Crust of the Los Angeles Times stated,
"Dramatically it lacks the layering of a Kramer vs. Kramer, which it superficially resembles
. . . Though the subject matter is serious, the film itself is rather slight, and it relies
on the actor to give it any energy. Even in a more modest register, Smith is a very appealing
leading man, and he makes Gardner's plight compelling . . . The Pursuit of Happyness
is an unexceptional film with exceptional performances . . . There are worse ways to
spend the holidays, and, at the least, it will likely make you appreciate your own circumstances."
In the St. Petersburg Times, Steve Persall graded the film B- and added, "[It] is the
obligatory feel-good drama of the holiday season and takes that responsibility a bit
too seriously . . . the film lays so many obstacles and solutions before its resilient
hero that the volume of sentimentality and coincidence makes it feel suspect . . . Neither
Conrad's script nor Muccino's redundant direction shows [what] lifted the real-life Chris above
better educated and more experienced candidates, but it comes through in the earnest performances
of the two Smiths. Father Will seldom comes across this mature on screen; at the finale,
he achieves a measure of Oscar-worthy emotion. Little Jaden is a chip off the old block,
uncommonly at ease before the cameras. Their real-life bond is an inestimable asset to
the on-screen characters' relationship, although Conrad never really tests it with any conflict."
National Review Online has named the film #7 in its list of 'The Best Conservative Movies'.
Linda Chavez of the Center for Equal Opportunity wrote, "this film provides the perfect antidote
to Wall Street and other Hollywood diatribes depicting the world of finance as filled with
nothing but greed." Accolades
See also
List of American films of 2006 References
External links The Pursuit of Happyness at AllMovie
The Pursuit of Happyness at the Internet Movie Database
The Pursuit of Happyness at Rotten Tomatoes The Pursuit of Happyness at Metacritic
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The Pursuit of Happyness

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