American Feature Film Critique
The Pursuit of Happiness
An emotionally wrenching story of a father and son's struggle for survival from life's challenges has been the thematic foundation of the movie “The Pursuit of Happiness (otherwise spelled as Happyness)”. The film starring Will Smith as Chris Gardner together with real-life son Jaden Smith have delivered a remarkable performance portraying the characters based on real-life accounts. It was directed by Gabrielle Mucciono and was released in cinemas on December 15, 2006. The movie was inspired by the life story of the now CEO and founder of Gardner Rich & Co. Christopher Paul Gardner (Henning, n.d., Web). The movie was set in 1981 San Francisco at the time when America is experiencing a severe economic situation paired with enormous federal budget deficit. The film demonstrates an inspirational theme, which gives an obvious picture of a drama flick. However, the movie was able to set itself apart from other the conventional inspirational drama films. One of the problems of inspirational drama is its predictability, the outcome of movies in such genre is too easy to predict. However, the movie had established a unique characteristic to storytelling because it embodies several narratives of an autobiography, fiction and social realities. Having said that, The Pursuit of Happiness is unique in such a way that it has delivered a story that combines the sense of following a person's life journey and social realization while inspiring audiences.
Just a quick overview of the plot of the movie, the main character Chris Gardner was depicted in the movie as a persistent, intelligent and enduring single father. He is struggling to meet the necessities of his family's daily living as a medical equipment salesman. After being separated from his wife, Gardner took custody of his five-year old son and together they faced all odds of being homeless and broke. Gardner took the chance of his life by by taking an internship at a stock brokerage firm, which offers a very slim opportunity. However, Gardner took the risk and eventually succeeded. After months of living in shelters with very limited money, Gardner has earned his place in the brokerage firm and the dream of providing a better life for his son is now within reach (Feinberg, n.d., Web).
The arrangement approach in delivering the plot of this story in the film is the usual linear to multi-linear form. Linear form means patching the stories together pieces of the story in a progressive manner (Hoad, 2012, Web). Mixing it with multi-linear form means stringing pieces of the scenes in the story that either in retrospect or pushes the plot forward. The story suggests a conflict between the main and the supporting characters. Gardner is in conflict with his wife on the grounds that her wife is no longer happy with their life situation. It also suggests the main context of the story focusing on the absence of happiness and the reason for its pursuit. The external conflict depicted in the film is the economic situation of the country during the period in which the story was set. The economic distress depicted in the story creates the stressing situation for Gardner's family and the people in the background. The way it was resolved is for Gardner to continue pursuing his dream and strive to succeed despite the hardships and also with the help of his new-found career.
The Pursuit of Happiness obviously presented several symbolism to represent elements in the film the defining its theme. For example, the density bone scanner that Gardner struggles to get rid of. The bone density scanners somehow manages to bring disappointment to the characters and at the same time it served as their life saving option. The shelters and people lining up to get a place to stay were used in the movie to symbolize the economic distress during the period. The parking tickets, tax notice and lack of money in the beat-up wallet represents the financial struggle encountered by the Gardner and his son. Apart from the symbolism, the passages from the declaration of independence were mentioned several times in the movie. Most particularly, the word happiness and the phrase “pursuit of happiness” itself were used not only as the title, but the metaphor that defines the entire movie. There are scenes in the movie that people can generally relate, being evicted from the apartment, parking tickets, lack of money, relationship breakups and financial difficulties are among the things that people also experience in real life. The majority of the film's depicted situations addresses the universal truth that happiness is subjective to experience and personal choices (Prakke, 2005), which was effectively delivered by the film.
Apart from the storyline, what makes a good movie worth watching are the technical aspects that its makers have integrated into the making of the movie. One of the most important thing the needs to be made sure to be perfect in any movie is the level of acting that the actors have poured in about every scene. Will Smith that played Chris Gardner delivered a powerful and moving performance that strongly defines the personality of the real Chris Gardner (Gilchrist, 2006, Web). Smith was able to make use of his natural charisma particularly in a scene where he was being interviewed by his bosses. Appearing in a job interview stained with dried paint all over the clothes and face would send any potential boss running to the desk to call security. However, Smith showed strong conviction to the role he is playing in the movie and nailed it beautifully. Besides, Smith would not earn an Academy Award and Golden Globe Awards nomination for Best Actor if he hadn't pulled it off. The same can be said to Jaden Smith (Will Smith's son in real-life). The kid has clearly inherited his parents' talents by embodying a character of his same age, but with more depth and substance and not just a random winning kid on screen. In terms of directing style, Gabrielle Muccino kept the most substantial elements of the story intact without the excessive use of melodramatic approach. Muccino ingeniously put together the important elements of the story such as Gardner's career detours, struggling marriage, desperate parenting and poor living condition. All of the elements were given equal focus and contrasts.
The Denver Post has described Phedon Papmichael's style of cinematography as subtle, there were no hard light and back lighting. The film used a more neutral color that highlighted a more realistic environment without putting emphasis on a singular subject on every frame. When it comes to editing, Hughes Winborne used Film Composer system for cutting and pasting the scenes of the movie together, he was able create a finished product by integrating files with media (Geniusdv.com, n.d., Web). The editorial approach used in the movie has worked perfectly by adding only the relevant scenes. Just by looking at the movie anyone will notice that not a single scene was a waste. The film employed a more natural sound approach, it is mostly dominated by the sound of the things in the background, the busy street, things banging and rustling as their character moves around from one scene to another (Bishop, 2007, p. 3). In terms of background music, the film employed a more mellow sound particularly the piano that adds just the needed amount of sadness tone to the scenes. The overall technical aesthetics of the movie were owed from the style of camera shots, which used several techniques like panning, long shots, from the waist up and close-up using telephoto lenses.
The most obvious impact of the movie in the society is for the people to not lose confidence in themselves and strive no matter how hard the struggles would be. There is a moral in the story, poor living condition, being down and out should not stop a person from realizing his dream. There is a lot of social relevance that the film encompasses to the audience such as relationship, career and life in general. On the other hand, the society itself also has affected the outcome of the movie in the sense that the kind of living situation that people face even today is real. The movie and its story were inspired by the very experiences of a real person and not just based on fiction, which explains the context in the movie.
Bishop, S. (2007). Scene Analysis of The Pursuit of Happyness. Development Of Film Expression, 3.
Cinemablend.com (n.d.). The Pursuit of Happyness Review -. CinemaBlend.com. Retrieved September 18, 2012, from http://www.cinemablend.com/reviews/The-Pursuit-of-Happyness-1974.html
Geniusdv.com (n.d.). Avid and the Pursuit of Happiness. Final Cut Pro, Avid, and After Effects Training. Retrieved September 18, 2012, from http://www.geniusdv.com/weblog/archives/avid_and_the_pursuit_of_happiness.php
Gilchrist, T. (2006, December 14). Pursuit of Happyness - IGN. IGN Asia Pacific. Retrieved September 18, 2012, from http://www.ign.com/articles/2006/12/15/pursuit-of-happyness
Hoad, P. (2012, March 21). Whatever happened to non-linear films? The Guardian. Retrieved September 18, 2012, from http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2012/mar/21/non-linear-film-narrative-contraband
Prakke, D. (2005). The Buddhist Truth of Happiness. Spirituality and Development.