Will Smith has come a long way since his Fresh Prince of Bel Air days. Starring in an average of 1 movie per year, ranging from action to serious drama, it's without a doubt that he's one of the world's most bankable stars, and turns in an Oscar nominated performance for his role as Chris Gardner in The Pursuit of Happyness, inspired by the events of the real Chris Gardner's life.
Smith's role was wonderfully multi-faceted, as the loving father who's trying his very best to bring home the bacon, for his family, and to pay the bills. A sales person whose product is a bone density contraption, he faces dark days when sales targets are consistently missed, and the bills start to mount. Soon enough his family structure breaks down, as he goes in search for financial independence against incredible odds, in the quest to lift himself and his son from the doldrums of life.
It's a basic rags to riches story, which made the grade based on Smith's performance. With steely grit, determination, and the refusal to back down, it's inspirational in a way, though at times cliched, with reminders not to let others put you down just because they can't themselves. You feel down when the characters face their challenges, and celebrate when they gain little triumphs. For anyone who had faced financial hardships one way or another, it's easy to identify with elements presented, like how difficult it is to reclaim bad debts, and the feeling of dread when you have but a few dollars in your wallet.
Told as a narration introduced by titles corresponding to the events presented, there were some elements that brought back some memories of my internship days as well, especially the scene where Gardner had to make cold calls. It's not easy, even though you're prepared with some sort of script, you have to be on your toes to negotiate for a meeting to present something substantial, and the challenge is to snag that meeting. Of course, more often than not, it's great training to build up a thick skin, as you'll face with more rejections, some of which are as soon as you introduce yourself. A little street smart slyness is the order of the day, and Gardner in the movie managed to kill multiple birds in one stone, constantly probing for opportunities.
The art direction was superb, capturing the 80s setting perfectly, with little clues dropped every now and then to remind you that it's the 80s - the ads for Robert DeNiro's Raging Bull, Ronald Reagan as President, and the fashion of the days. The Rubik's Cube, the breakthrough toy of the day, was all the rage, and if you want to learn more about the Rubik's Cube, you can click on this link. I have one cube, but yet to solve it!
While Thandie Newton co-stars as Gardner's wife Linda, a role which allowed her to contribute a lot more than her recent outing in Norbit, the real co-star is actually Jaden Smith, who plays Gardner's son Christopher. In fact, if you thought the father-son chemistry he shared with Will Smith was natural, it is, because Jaden is actually Will's son, so it's no surprise how comfortable they look together on screen.
For an inspirational movie and as much one on father and son relationships, of the sacrifices fathers make, it's balanced in both its lighthearted and melancholic moments, A definite must watch for fans of Will Smith, and for those curious to check out his Oscar nominated performance before the awards ceremony this weekend. My bet is if Forest Whitaker's Idi Amin role in The Last King of Scotland is not competing in the same year, then Will Smith would have had a better chance.
Those interested in reading more about the real Chris Gardner, you can click here for his official website, or here for the wikipedia entry.