The true story of Chris Gardner is perfect for Hollywood’s usual inspirational tale of “making it work against the odds.” Add in Will Smith in the lead role, and you have the combination for an effective tale of one man’s struggle to make a better life for his son. Pursuit of Happyness is a standout effort.
Will Smith takes the role of Gardner and lets it all out. An emotional ride, Gardner’s life is filled with ups and downs. He’s challenged every step of the way, and every time he manages to get a little ahead of the curve, everything comes crashing down around him.
Steve Conrad adapts this story to the screen with a script that ties in quite a bit of comedy in the early going. At that point of the film, as Smith is struggling financially, it lightens the tone without completely avoiding the emotion. Later it’s likely director Gabriele Muccino who adds in out of place music, which destroys the drama. It’s a misfire, as if he didn’t want the audience to take the events at face value.
Happyness (yes, spelled incorrectly based on the day care in the film) is filled with likeable and sometimes quirky secondary characters. While they do play a part in the dumbing down of emotion, it’s hard not to like the guy who thinks Gardner’s medical device (which he’s selling for cash) is a time machine.
There are times when you wish it were a time machine, to at least give audiences a better of sense of progression and time. It almost weakens the impact of Gardner being homeless when it’s directed as if it’s over in a matter of one edit of film. The internship Gardner fights for likely took months, yet the film’s pacing makes it seem like a matter of days.
Even though the ending is obvious (and likely known as soon as you push play), it’s still an emotional moment. Smith’s on-screen elation is a relief from the stress, and a celebration of everything he’s fought so hard for. That’s a sign the film has done its job, pulling you through an incredibly tough story that makes you feel like you’re with the characters the entire way. Happyness is emotionally effective.
Happyness comes to Blu-ray in a fine transfer. Crisp and clean, the film is presented with gorgeous detail. Colors are bold with loads of depth. Contrast is excellent, from the darkest scenes to the brightest. Occasional video noise is the only real distraction, though its presence isn’t enough to hamper the overall presentation.
Audio is a disappointment. While you shouldn’t expect heavy bass from any explosions, the crowded Los Angeles streets should fill the surrounds. Instead, the mix is entirely front loaded, even as Gardner runs across traffic or through thick crowds. Dialogue is nicely mixed, and never overpowered. All lines are clearly audible without messing with the volume.
A commentary from director Gabriele Muccino can be tough to understand with his accent, but does deliver the usual production stories the best he can. Four featurettes should have been combined into one documentary. Combined, they run about 45 minutes.
The best of the lot focuses on the real Chris Gardner, with extensive footage of him on set while reminiscing about his experiences. All have a distinctly promotional feel, caused by an excessive narrator. A feature outside of the filmmaking realm is on Rubik’s cube competitors, and it’s an interesting look at this odd hobby, including demonstrations. A musical performance is the final extra.