Monday, December 18, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW - "The Pursuit of Happγness"

This weekend, my girlfriend and I saw Will Smith's latest, and deliberately titled, flick, "The Pursuit of Happγness."
Story.
The story is inspired by the real-life experiences of a father trying to raise his 5-year-old son, alone, while walking around with the proverbial dark cloud raining all over him. We watch as Smith's characters' circumstances change from a family of two working adults and child to being solo, broke, homeless, and all but hopeless.

And yet, he continues to pursue the faint light in the darkness that surrounds him.

Since I first heard about the life of the man who inspired this tale, I was hooked. Hearing Smith would play the lead role, with his real-life young son, Jaden, playing his characters' son, decreased my interest in seeing this film, but not enough to avoid it altogether.


Acting.
Smith's acting was decent enough, as was Jaden's. In fact, I was surprised at how much more I enjoyed the boy's acting. That probably has more to do with my own unfair assumptions about this child I don't know from Adam. I actually found his acting more engaging than his father's. He seemed like a really sweet kid playing the role of a really sweet kid. Nothing wrong with that.

The older Smith continued to be a star playing a role, in my eyes, unfortunately. That affected my enjoyment of his performance, although I remained engaged throughout the feature. It's hard to find much fault with his portrayal besides the moments where he's supposed to cry. To me, those were clincher moments that Smith really needed to nail.

I didn't think he did, but my girlfriend disagreed. She may be right.

I'm not sure I completely divested myself of the expectations and assumptions that might color my perceptions of Mr. Smith's performance. When I first heard he was playing the role, I was disappointed as I just didn't feel that he had the acting chops for this kind of role.

His anger and determination played well, though. I believed him and, now that I think about it a little more, I may have actually forgotten who he was during some of those moments.

Overall, the acting was better than average. Thandie Newton pulled a Charlize and looked the roughest I've ever seen her. It helped me stop thinking of her as that woman with the perfect skin who was in that Tom Cruise movie. Solid acting from her in this - possibly as good as her performance in Crash.

Perhaps to Smith's credit, he seemed to have shed some of the muscle-mass he's gained and sported for some of his most recent films. Between that, his afro, and his facial hair, he looked less like a superstar with access to an in-home cooking staff and personal trainer and more like a man who was taking a Rodney King-style ass-whuppin' from life.

I will say, though, that I look forward to some dark-skinned families being shown a bit more - especially in this case where Smith's much lighter than the man he was portraying.


Storytelling.
The storytelling was sound except for one or two critical areas. The one I'm thinking of didn't necessarily break the movie, but it made Smith's character's circumstances more of his own design than simply a result of circumstances beyond his control.

For this film to work best, we needed to feel that Smith's character had more or less done the best he could in an all but impossible situation. The mother's situation, however, was never explored as much as I feel it should've been.

In fact, perhaps ironically, the situation seemed very much like a joke young Jaden shared during the film. Without spoiling, it basically pointed out how, sometimes, we bypass the things that could make our lives easier, for no good reason.

For this type of movie, this kind of mistake should never have been made. I don't know if most people noticed it, but it affected my enjoyment of the film a little.



Recommended?
Yes.

It's got flaws, but it's still a heckuva ride.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Once again a great review, West. This is on my list of must see movies, and I plan to go see it this week.

West said...

Thanks, ma'am. Lemme know what you think of it, please.

chele said...

For this type of movie, this kind of mistake should never have been made. I don't know if most people noticed it, but it affected my enjoyment of the film a little.


I must've not noticed it because I'm lost.

I loved the movie and I thought your review was fair. Just out of curiosity, which dark-skinned actor do you think could have played the part?

During an interview Chris Gardener also expressed doubt when told that Smith would play his part. His daughter reassured him that if Smith could play Muhammad Ali, he could certainly play him.

West said...

re: "I must've not noticed it because I'm lost."

At one point Smith says, "You know you can't..."

As far as I know, they never explained why that was (or why he'd think that was) the case.

If that near-quote doesn't ring a bell, lemme know.

re: "I loved the movie and I thought your review was fair. Just out of curiosity, which dark-skinned actor do you think could have played the part?"

With the box-office pull and range of a Will Smith? I'm not sure. There were people of all ages and colors sitting around me. Not every actor - particularly a Black male actor - has that kind of juice.

It leaves me torn between wanting a better (and darker) actor and wanting the story to reach more people.

As it stands, the guy that springs to-mind is the Black dude from GREY'S ANATOMY. Too bad he's got a bad rep, these days.

re: "During an interview Chris Gardener also expressed doubt when told that Smith would play his part. His daughter reassured him that if Smith could play Muhammad Ali, he could certainly play him."

I was left with a luke-warm reaction to Smith's Ali portrayal.

What about you?

Anonymous said...

I am going to take Mama J to go see this at some point. I am not too pressed about seeing it, but she really loves Will Smith. I like your point about it being nice to see darker skin black people on film, but I honestly believe it would not be nearly as successful with a darker skin actor. However, to completely contradict myself Will Smith is a huge actor is last five movies have grossed over a 100 million so that definitely has something to do with it as well.

Shai said...

West, I think life hands you things and your hands handle as best you can. I have not seen the movie but plan to soon. I have heard some great reviews. Can we really judge a person's judgment when they are in the midst of a breakthrough? We all go through some shit of and not of our own doing. Success is about falling and getting back up regardless of how you fell. It is important to learn the lesson.

West said...

re: "Can we really judge a person's judgement when they are in teh midst of a breakthrough?"

I'm not sure what you mean. Even if you meant "break-up," I don't get it.

There was something in the movie that was never explained. It should have been.

That's my point.

chele said...

I thought he did okay as Ali. I wasn't that impressed.

I think you're right about Isaiah Washington. He would have done a great job!

Royce's Daughter said...

I read the book...which I thought was entertaining and thought provoking. Movies never compare to books but I am looking forward to seeing little Jaden make his debut. I love Will...therefore by default I think I'll love his offspring LOL!!

Happy Holidays!

shai said...

My point was that when a person goes through some rough times and are about to breakthrough, people judge how they handled their decisions. Meaning a person makes a bunch of mistakes before they get their break. If you can get that.

West said...

Shai, your comments are welcome, of course, but I guess I don't see what part of my review critcized the mistakes that the main character may have made.

If you're talking about where I said they left some stuff out, they did.

Once you see the movie, feel free to let me know if you disagree.

Anonymous said...

I finally saw the movie, and I enjoyed it.

It's hard to find much fault with his portrayal besides the moments where he's supposed to cry.
I had to agree, and I don't know if it is because I had already read your opinion, so I really concentrated on that part or not.

I also would have liked to know what happened with the mom. But since I knew that Chris Gardner had written it, and it was his story, I think that makes it more like real life. Sometimes you just don't know what is going on with other people, when you are living your life.

But I loved your commentary on the movie.

West said...

Bingo. What the HECK was up with the mom?

*spoilers warning*
Read no further unless you want to know what happens in the movie...




He told her she KNOWS she can't take care of their son. Why?!

That was really valuable information b/c it might've explained why an unemployed, nigh-homeless man demanded primary custody.

Thanks for the kind words, by the way. :-)


Hey, did you notice him walk by, at the end?

Anonymous said...

I don't remember where I saw it, but I knew Chris Gardner made a cameo at the end. Of course when I saw him, then I started wondering what other darker skinned actor could have played him. I am still not sure.

West said...

Besides the actor I mentioned (and chele named) above, I'm not sure.

If it came down to box-office pull, then Denzel or Wesley, I guess.

Otherwise, there are a bunch of talented, darker-skinned actors out there.

Mekhi could've done it.