The father/son dynamic of a real father and son allowed for honest moments that are severely lacking in our overly politically correct world of today. I found myself wondering if a grown man soaping up a child, or asking the kid to kiss him on the lips, and the kid does, would play as smoothly to a modern audience with only a make-believe bond.
Also, the acting is very good. Both the Smith's did an excellent job. Even the supporting cast did an excellent job. As did the chick from CRASH, even if her character sucked a limp one.
At the end of this movie I could almost hear the Creative Exec leaning back in his chair, flipping through wads of cash, kissing a picture of Will Smith, whispering "Thank you test market audience." I've never felt so manipulated by a movie before. (This coming from a guy that cried in THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST).
I know I have argued that Dramatic Tension overcomes most obstacles. Even a major plot hole or two. Unfortunately, THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS has many, many problems... too numerous to list really. But one the defining flaw in this movie is the lack of unity. The lack of a central idea, theme, premise, spine.
UNITY - How about tying the swiss cheese of a theme into the story? You know, like most professional writers do. So, Thomas Jefferson wrote your title into the Declaration of Independence. What the hell does that have to do with the movie?
The movie is vaguely about attaining the American Dream. Or... The Pursuit of Happiness.
But the film takes an enormous leap, thinking that bringing up Thomas Jefferson and The Declaration of Independence would be all the heavy lifting that is needed to tie one poverty-stricken man's struggle to attain that American Dream.
To illustrate the film's lack of unity, try answering this question: What does the movie say about the American Dream?
Will's American Dream was selling bone density scanners. He sunk his whole life savings into them. That's a BIG risk. He must have believed in it. Alas, his dreams failed him. Left him broke, wifeless... although that is all arguably because he was simply lazy.
The stock broker thing is a stereotypical American Dream. But it wasn't Will's. Not until he noticed a stock broker's Ferarri. Wow! I want to do what you do, so I can drive a Ferrari. So he applies himself. And succeeds at becoming a stock broker, very easily.
Is this movie saying that the American Dream is a farce, and even the most impoverished can easily rise to the top if he wants a Ferrari badly enough and/or asserts himself?
Obviously, it isn't. It isn't that cynical. What it is TRYING to do is to tie the struggles of homelessness and poverty with the ability to succeed at the American Dream. That is what the movie SHOULD have been about. Unfortunately, instead of finding a way to tie the two together, the movie went for phony tear jerking moments, by creating situations that were easily preventable.
SOME BULLET PROBLEMS:
- Saying happy 13 times in a period of 3 minutes does not mean you have a theme. Yes, even if it is in the title of your movie! You have to do more than just say, "This is about the pursuit of happiness." Prove it!
- Ummm, tone down the race card, thing just a little. Of twenty interns he is the ONLY minority. If you're going to play with stereotypes in the business world of the '80s you might as well have made an army of Japanese interns that are all smarter, faster, and harder working than Will. Hell, at least I could see why he would be worried then. Apparently being black and able to endure homelessness with a child for 6 months is the only thing it takes to get a paid gig as a stock broker.
- After the test... Did we really need to see the Arian poster child standing next to Will Smith in the elevator. Couldn't find an Adolf Hitler look alike?
- END TITLE CARD. Not only does it distract from a quaint little ending by offering up completely unnecessary exposition... It does so TWICE.
- If Will Smith can stay up all night for nights on end till he is beat to hell... Why couldn't he have flipped burgers at McDonalds on a nightshift? Or over the weekends? That would have covered rent. (and food).
- When you have money why don't you pay your landlord? ...Oh because then we won't get kicked out when the IRS cleans out our bank account. Right.
- How is it that a man that can not sell 1 Bone Density scanner in three months with nothing else to do but somehow manages to sell 6 in 4 months time, while solo taking care of a kid, doing an internship, waiting in lines for a roof over his head... Then it won't be hopeless when the IRS conveniently clears out the bank account just as the last one is sold.
- How can one man recover a bone density scanner in a major metropolitan city every time he loses it. It was an unintentional running gag. And it was literally a running gag.
- THE WIFE. She is one big common sense hole. I can't even begin with this character. There is no reason for her to be in the movie.
I will end on THE VOICE OVER.
I am a BIG fan of voice over. Almost all of my favorite movies use it. SUNSET BLVD, AMERICAN BEAUTY, FIGHT CLUB... the list goes on. It pains me to see voiceover so horribly misused and abused. The voiceover is only used to talk down to the audience. If you want a textbook example of bad voiceover watch this movie.
This is the time in my life I call "stupid..." mainly because I think the audience is too dumb to be able to figure out that me leaving this thing with this hippy chick is a bad idea.
And the sad thing is that scene was actually not half bad. The problem is it would have played better WITHOUT the voiceover. Watch that scene again, with the sound OFF.
Will points to his scanner. Hands the hippy chick a dollar. Walks inside leaving the scanner with her. Inside some CRUSTY WHITE DUDE interviews Will Smith. Will Smith looking good. Straightening himself up. A smile. A solid handshake. Things are rocking until... hippy chick walks by in the background. Crusty white dude blabs on. Will Smith panicking. Crusty white dude starts to get uncomfortable with this interview. Will Smith excuses himself. Crusty white guy looks dumbfounded.
Also note that the voiceover is the only delivery system the film uses in an attempt to somehow tie Thomas Jefferson to the rest of the film.
I am not surprised at the business this movie is doing. But I am truly surprised this movie is getting so much acclaim.