"The Pursuit of Happyness" is based on the true story of Chris Gardner, a man who - through sheer determination and unsinkable spirit - went from being homeless and trying to take care of his young son to being a successful broker on Wall Street. Gardner currently operates Christopher Gardner International Holdings, which has offices in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
"The Pursuit of Happyness" stars Will Smith (who earned an Oscar nomination for the role) as Gardner and starts at the beginning. It's the early 80's, and Gardner is living in a low-rent apartment in San Fransisco with his wife, Linda (Thandie Newton) and his son Christopher (Jaden Smith, Will's real-life son). Unsuccessfully trying to sell special medical scanners that doctors didn't consider necessities.
It then begins to fall apart for Chris, starting with the departure of his wife, who takes their son with her. While Christopher is eventually brought back to live with his father, things continue South as Chris eventually is evicted and forced to live on the streets. Meanwhile, he's managed to get his foot in the door at Dean Witter, and enters their unpaid internship program - putting absolutely everything on the hopes that he will be the one out of the 20 chosen to be hired.
While the remainder of the film heads towards the expected ending, "Pursuit of Happyness" keeps the interest because of Smith's performance. While one would expect a star like Smith to have a difficult time convincing as a guy down on his luck, he actually does a fine job here in a moving and effective performance that's not showy. Jaden Smith is enjoyable in his first effort.
One of the film's main issues is the performance from Newton, and one is almost thankful that the character leaves the film for large stretches of time. While Newton is a terrific actress that's been memorable in other films, she's stuck playing an incredibly shrill character here. While the film's never dull, a few moments here-and-there could have been dropped to tighten the film's 110-minute running time a bit. These moments include a series of incidents where Gardner's medical scanners keep getting taken and he keeps managing to track them down. Additionally, the movie offers a fair amount of narration from Smith's character; while some of it works, there are chunks that don't seem necessary. Remarkably, aside from a couple of moments here-and-there, the movie manages to keep from being sappy. The real-life Chris Gardner passes the film's version as he walks across the street in the film's final moments.
Still, some minor issues aside, "Pursuit of Happyness" stands out as an uplifting, inspirational drama that's actually uplifting without having to be overly sentimental or manipulative. Smith's performance is impressive throughout and "Persuit" largely remains a solid tale of hope.
VIDEO: "Pursuit of Happyness" is presented by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation quality is quite good throughout the show, with fine sharpness and detail in all but a few dimly-lit interiors. Flaws were kept to a minimum, with only some slight edge enhancement spotted and a couple of tiny moments of artifacting. Colors looked natural, with nice saturation and no smearing. Flesh tones looked accurate, as well.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation delivers what one would expect from a drama like this one, as the audio was largely spread across the front speakers only. The surrounds kick in on a couple of occasions to deliver some light ambience and reinforcement of the score, but are largely quiet. Audio quality was fine, with crisp dialogue and effects.
EXTRAS: Director Gabriele Muccino, who is making his American debut with this film, offers an audio commentary for the picture. There are also several other features, including "The Man Behind the Movie: A Conversation with Chris Gardner", which is a piece that takes a look at Gardner's life and his participation with the project. We get some reasonably good interviews with Gardner here, but a lot of the piece shows clips or behind-the-scenes footage or interviews with others involved with the picture. I'd have liked to have heard more from Gardner; it would have been great had he offered a commentary on the DVD.
"Making Pursuit: An Italian Take on the American Dream" is a look at how the director was chosen and his experiences working on his first major American film with Smith. There's some insightful interviews with Smith and the director, as well as some entertaining behind-the-scenes footage. "Father and Son" is a featurette that looks at how Jayden was picked for the role and his performance in the film.
Finally, we get the "Inside the Rubik’s Cube" featurette, "I Can" audio performance and trailers for other titles from the studio, including "Spider-Man 3" and "Surf's Up".
Final Thoughts: Some minor issues aside, "Pursuit of Happyness" stands out as an uplifting, inspirational drama that's actually uplifting without having to be overly sentimental or manipulative. Smith's performance is impressive and the film is largely a winner. The DVD offers fine audio/video quality and a good set of supplemental features. Recommended.
The Film B+