Actually, Happyness Is Kind of a Drag

11 Dec

On the way home after seeing The Pursuit of Happyness, I was trying to come up with a better, more appropriate title for the movie.

You see, not only does the title — with that too-obvious misspelling — not really fit, but it’s also kind of a misnomer because the movie isn’t really all that happy.

In fact, it’s kind of a drag.

Happyness tells the true-life story of Chris Gardner, who, determined to raise his five-year-old son on his own, struggles to make ends meet by selling an overpriced piece of medical equipment while taking part in an upaid internship at Dean Witter.

At one point, Gardner has no money to his name and is forced to stay with his son overnight in the men’s room of a subway station. But this is an inspirational story, so it’s not giving anything away to say things work out in the end. It’s just that that part of the story is at the very end, and it takes a long time to get there.

To Happyness‘ credit, it doesn’t skirt any corners. There is no sad montage showing how bad things got, nor is there an upbeat montage showing Gardner working hard to beat the odds. This speaks to the film’s desire to pay appropriate tribute to Gardner’s story and to treat him with respect; it wasn’t easy for Gardener to endure what he went through, and the film isn’t going to take an easy way out to show you.

And if you’re going to cast anyone in such a role, it had better be Will Smith, who even at Gardner’s lowest points remains charming and likable and winning. Your affection for Will makes it easier to sympathize with Gardner’s disappointments and root him on to succeed.

It also helps that Gardner’s son is played by Smith’s own son, Jaden; their on-screen chemistry is palpable. Happyness is a long movie, longer than it really needs to be (just under two hours), but these two make it more enjoyable than it really should be. I’m giving it a B.

Oh, and about that title … Gardner at a few points in the film refers to Thomas Jefferson and the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence, trying to explain Jefferson’s motives for including “the pursuit of happiness” and also, saying that the pursuit of happiness is guaranteed, not the achievement of it.

And outside Gardner’s son’s daycare, the word happiness is misspelled with a y. It’s a passing thing early in the movie that serves no purpose as the film’s title. (Then again, it’s more original than the ones I was coming up with — which I won’t even bother to share.)

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