Smith played Chris Gardner, a down on his luck salesman fighting to keep his family afloat and together while seeking the American dream. His wife finally leaves him, but he insists that his son stay with him. Gardner takes a competitive internship at Dean Witter despite the offer of no pay, and on many nights literally scrounges to find a place for him and his son to sleep, while continuing to sell an alternative to X-ray machines he invested in.
My suspicion is that the disclaimer that comes on most films depicting true stories (as this one does) that some events were dramatized was more necessary than usual for this film. Every piece of bad luck that could befall a person nailed this guy right between the eyes. I’m not suggesting people don’t go through the things Gardner went through, but there was just so much “bad luck” packed into this film it became draining just to watch.
I also didn’t find Gardner to be an overly sympathetic character. It was admirable that he pursued his dream and that he wanted to be a real father to his son, but it just seemed like he chose the hardest route possible. For example, I wondered why he didn’t eat the loss on the bone density machines and take some sort of night job for steady cash.
I always find it hard to judge actors playing real people. They’re limited to what they can (or even should) do. Smith certainly never stepped out of character, and he was at least a guy you rooted for. Smith’s real-life son (Jaden) also played his son in the movie, Christopher, and was fine, but I don’t quite get what all the fuss was about over his performance.
The restraint Gardner showed in the face of some prejudice from his boss for the internship was interesting. I could see some wanting it to be explored more, but too much more may have distracted from the intended picture of this man’s determination. In fact, his restraint appeared based in that determination not to be deterred from his goal.
The Pursuit of Happyness gets a touch long, but won’t make you regret not doing something else with the two-and-a-half hours. That said, it’s just entertaining.