The Pursuit of Happyness – DVD Review


Available at Amazon.com

Director:

Gabriele Muccino

Starring:

Will Smith ………. Chris Gardner
Jaden Smith ………. Christopher
Thandie Newton ………. Linda
Brian Howe ………. Jay Twistle
James Karen ………. Martin Frohm
Dan Castellaneta ………. Alan Frakesh
Kurt Fuller ………. Walter Ribbon

The Movie

Will Smith has come a long ways since his days of rapping with D.J. Jazzy Jeff in the streets of Philadelphia. He has also come a long way from being just known as the “Fresh Prince” of Bel-Air. A TV star once, Smith has become one of the biggest “A-List” movie stars in Hollywood today. He’s a star that appeals to multiple demographics and ethnicities. And he’s almost 100% certain to draw money at the box office. Some may call his success in Hollywood as being rags-to-riches. Coincidence it is then that’s Smith’s latest starring vehicle is him in a true-to-life “rags to riches” experience in The Pursuit of Happyness.

Will Smith stars as Chris Gardner. Gardner is a struggling salesman of medical bone density scanners. His girlfriend, Linda (Thandie Newton), works double shifts to support the family including their son Christopher (as portrayed by Smith’s real son Jaden). Despite all of this, Chris gets the idea to try out for an internship at Dean Whitter for a possible high-paying job as a stock broker. Nineteen others want the same position, though, and he will earn no money while doing this internship. Chris’s girlfriend soon gets tired of his antics and leaves him and his son. Even still, Chris hangs tight to his dream and struggles through life with his son by his side.

This film was inspired by a true story. There really was a guy named Chris Gardner. In fact, the real Chris has a cameo appearance. He really was an intern at Dean Whitter. We find out on the extras that he did get paid some money for the internship, but not enough for living expenses or survival. It is true that the real Chris and his son had to spend some nights at a homeless shelter. Obviously, some things have been changed for dramtic effect, but for the most part it sticks to the real story. And despite this fact, The Pursuit of Happyness doesn’t seem nearly as cheesy and cliche as other “inspired by a true story” movies.

Will Smith was the perfect in the role of Chris Gardener. Like Tom Hanks in Cast Away he is the anchor, the star with the majority of the screen time. With one exception, of course. That being his son, Jaden. On paper having Smith’s son play the role of Chris Gardner’s son seems like a perfect fit, since the movie is made or broken on this relationship. However, the execution of the father-son relationship on screen lacks punch. Jaden’s inexperience as an actor – this being his first role – ultimately makes Happyness an okay film, but one that could have definitely been better. Will tries to pull out a great performance from his son, and the DVD extras try countless time to drive home the point that Jaden was the best kid for this role, but it just doesn’t work. This is no to imply that Jaden Smith was so bad that it ruined the movie, because he wasn’t. He was just average and passable. That would be okay if the father-son relationship wasn’t as pertinent to the story, but since this movie hinged on the relationship it’s difficult to give Jaden a pat on the shoulder and say, “Better luck next time.”

The Pursuit of Happyness was released is the season of Oscar buzz; contenters and pretenders vying to be recognized by the Academy at years end. It’s easy to see that Will Smith was an almost lock to be a Best Actor nominee when this movie got released. Yet, as I mentioned earlier, Will Smith doesn’t take the easy route and just go through the motions of portraying this role. He takes it to another level, and is pitch perfect, and at times makes you forget that he is portraying a real person.

Had it not been for the father-son dynamic, as acting goes, The Pursuit of Happyness could have been a great picture. Still the story is geniune and heartfelt, despite the fact that its message is sometimes preachy. Thankfully, though, the film refrains from being a long-winded cliche, which is always a good thing.

The Video:

The video is presnted in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen. Pretty much what you expect these days from newly produced movies released on DVD. The video is good to watch on your widescreen plasma TV or your fullscreen box TV.

The Audio:

The audio included is available in English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround sound and French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround sound. There are subtitles available in English, Spanish, and French as well. No real problems here either. The words spoken on the screen come across loud and clear. Not much music in the movie itself, but then again it’s not that kind of movie.

The Extras:

Audio Commentary
This is just a full-length commentary with the director of the movie, Gabriele Muccino. The main problem with this commentary is that Gabriele is the only person on the commentary. Besides the lack of “star” power in Will Smith, Gabriele is also Italian. That means he has an accent, so you really have to listen to him. Definitely would have been better with Will involved, but it’s okay as it is.

“Father and Son: Onscreen and Off” Featurette
This featurette talks all about the relationship between Will Smith and his son, Jaden, in the movie and out of the movie. This is where the director and producer and Will try to hard sell you on the idea that Jaden was the best kid for the job. He didn’t get this job because his father is Will Smith. It’s up to you to decide if that is true or not. Still an interesting feature to watch, however.

“The Man Behind the Movie: A Conversation with Chris Gardner” Featurette
This is about the real Chris Gardner. He speaks and others talk about him and his role in the movie. Very informative and a nice extra that reveals just who Chris Gardner is as a person.

“Making Pursuit: An Italian Take on the American Dream” Featurette
Like the title implies, this feature focusses on Italian director Gabriele Muccino and his opinions of the project. It’s the American dream, simply put. To start at the bottom and work your way to the top and become successful. Not as good as the previous two featurettes, but still okay.

“Inside the Rubik’s Cube” Featurette
This short featurette is about the Rubik’s cube. We see Chris Gardner briefly solve this thing in the movie in front of his future boss. This tells you all about the people who have solved this cube in real life and in some inventive ways like blindfolded and one-handed. Pretty interesting look into this phenomenon.

“I Can” Musical Performance
This is just the audio for a song that was inspired by the movie. Performed by Bebe Winans and Dave Koz, the song never appeared in the theatrical release. A strange occurence since music videos on DVDs are typically songs that play over the ending credits or encapsulate a mood the film is trying to nail home. The song is pretty much what you expect. It has the “I Believe I Can Fly”-type of vibe to it.

THE INSIDE PULSE

If you are a Will Smith fan, then you probably want to purchase this film. It is Will Smith at his best. A strong recommendation as a rental to anyone, as it is both a good movie and a good story. It may not be a must-buy for everyone, you should see it at least once before passing judgement.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for The Pursuit of Happyness
CATEGORY
RATING
(OUT OF 10)
THE MOVIE

7
THE VIDEO

7
THE AUDIO

7
THE EXTRAS

8
REPLAY VALUE

6
OVERALL
7
(NOT AN AVERAGE)