We first saw him sprinting up and down city streets in 1997's "Men In Black." Then, he was chasing space aliens. Now, in "The Pursuit of Happyness," he's chasing the American Dream. With his heart-tugging performance as real life homeless-manmakes good Chris Gardner, he is likely to race across the Oscar finish line in first place.
Directed by Gabriele Muccino, "Pursuit" is like the movie, "It's a Wonderful Life" starting at the hero's final descent into financial oblivion. His road to success is tough and grueling, made even more so because he shares it with his adorable 5-year-old son, Christopher, played by Smith's own offspring. Jaden Gardner begins his career on the streets of 1980's San Francisco lugging bone density scanners for sale at hospital clinics. The investment of his life savings in the scanners has turned into a scam because the medical world has declared them obsolete. His luck goes from bad to worse with the IRS rifling his bank account, the police hauling him to jail for unpaid parking tickets and his landlord (then motel proprietor) thrusting him and his son onto those San Franciscan streets, penniless. A running bit (no joke intended) has his scanners repeatedly stolen, forcing him to divert from any career progress and launch into another sprint, whenever he catches sight of a perpetrator.
His only hope is to hang onto an internship with the Dean Witter Reynolds brokerage firm, offering a fivepercent possibility of a steady salaried job after six months of unpaid hustling. The bottom of the abyss for Gardner is his night sleeping with his son in a transport authority bathroom on top of spread-out toilet paper, his foot pressed against the door to keep out the public. Long deserted by his wife and Christopher's mother, Linda (Thandie Newton), Gardner seems at the permanent point of no return.
However, "Pursuit" is a Hollywood holiday movie which has to have an upbeat ending, particularly when in competition with "Rocky Balboa." It should be no surprise that Gardner gets the job, yet the achievement is one of movie history's most moving moments, handled with tear-jerking effectiveness by star Smith.
It should be noted that throughout his ordeal, Gardener always manages to somehow feed his son and keep him at his daily day care center, where "happiness" on a wall is spelled with a "y"(hence the film's title.) Let's just say that Christopher is right to call his father, "a great papa."
Go (no, run) to see "The Pursuit of Happyness." It's a great holiday movie.