THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS (Gabriele Muccino, 2006)

Despite Laura Morante’s wonderful acting, Gabriele Muccino’s Ricordati di me (2003) proved a moribund family drama, and Muccino’s first American film, The Pursuit of Happyness, is much, much worse. Loosely based on an actual pilgrim’s progress in the 1980s, it flashes hope that it will be critical of Reaganism but collapses (perhaps unintentionally) into a mindless endorsement of Reagan policies, preposterously suggesting that individual perseverance can trump pathological economic policies. In keeping with the juvenile misspelling of the film’s title (an inadvertent reminder of how regressive was the Reagan mind-set), the film is among those works about U.S. poverty that banishes any real sign of the stress of such poverty. Everything is sentimentally geared towards the “happy ending.”
  It is long since past the point that anyone can seriously doubt that Will Smith is bereft of acting talent. He is dreadful as Chris Gardner, a “homeless” salesman en route to becoming a millionaire. Even scenes between Smith and his actual son playing Gardner’s son contain not an accent of truth—and the way this film cavalierly dismisses the child’s mother (played by Thandie Newton, in the film’s one good performance) admits its own pathology. One cannot help but wonder just what sort of a monster the real Gardner was and is.

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