'The Pursuit of Happyness' tells the true story of how, in the early 1980s, Chris Gardner managed to complete an internship at financial broker Dean Witter (now one half of Morgan Stanley) despite being homeless.
It features a strong performance from Will Smith in the lead role. He proves that he can be just as good when the material is sad or depressing as he is when it is light or comedic. Unfortunately Smith's excellence is in contrast to the rest of what is ultimately a mediocre and heartless film.
It begins by establishing that Chris is wonderful and clever, not to mention a brilliant dad. He ambles around San Francisco trying to sell the expensive bone density scanners in which he and his wife Linda (Newton) have invested their life savings.
Ah, poor Linda. There's a change in tone brought about when she hits the screen with her nasty, pulled back hair, a grimace Deirdre Barlow would be proud of and an accompaniment of loud factory noise, all of which adds up to a sort of Pavlovian attempt to make us dislike her.
However, while we're meant to think of her as the life partner from hell, I couldn't help but feel that nobody is this one dimensionally awful.
The whole sequence makes for the cinematic equivalent of listening to a self-regarding bore tell you about how his wife is terrible and mean to him even though he's never anything but nice to her.
Once the character assassination is over with Linda gets on with abandoning her husband and son Christopher (Smith's own son Jaden), leaving Chris holding the baby and the audience starting to think that maybe 'The Pursuit of Happyness' won't be particularly heartwarming after all. It isn't.
Chris encounters various financial misfortunes, and we should feel sorry for him. That we don't may be down to his constant shifting of blame. $1200 in parking tickets? You can't get parking near hospitals. $600 tax evasion? Who knew the government could reach in to your bank account and take your money?! $20 taxi fare? Chris runs away shouting "I'm really sorry"! Nobody else gets the benefit of context.
Worse than all this, there's no actual drama to speak of. We know what's going to happen at every turn and we don't care whether it does or not. Perhaps it was because this film is "based on true events" that the writers felt there was no need to try and tell a story? Anyway, for whatever reason, they don't bother.
Instead, they are content to take the real life Chris Gardner's anecdotes and slap them on screen without ever trying to develop a real story.
Aside from failing as a narrative, this film irritates because of the way in which it portrays minor characters. Are stockbrokers really all happy, humorous and fair minded types? Are poor people all bad and often mad? In 'The Pursuit of Happyness' they invariably are.
Finally, 'Eats, Shoots and Leaves' fans will be glad to know that the 'happyness' of the title is not a particularly terrible piece of American spelling but is actually derived from an incident in the film. Fortunately for the film's backers, this also keeps Google searches and the like from going awry. Nothing like a happy coincidence, is there?!