As a rule, I like to give well-intentioned movies the benefit of the doubt, saving my barbs and jibes for the loathsome likes of “Borat.” The exception to this general rule is when I come across a film that strikes me as not only over-praised, but whose obvious faults are over-looked because most people, including even critics, don’t wish to appear churlish towards a movie that shows a black man being a doting father.
The movie, as you have probably guessed, is “The Pursuit of Happyness.” It is the story of a married man, Chris Gardner, in San Francisco who risks his life savings buying up a bunch of bone density monitoring machines without, it seems, looking into whether there might actually be a market for the things. His wife, in the meantime, is working double shifts as a waitress to keep a roof over their heads and to put food on the table for the two of them and their five year old son. For her, the final straw is when Gardner is tossed into the slammer overnight for failing to pay a slew of parking tickets. She takes off for New York, leaving Gardner to fend for himself and the boy. Which, however unseemly her own behavior is, happens to be what he wants.
Things continue to go from bad to worse for Mr. Gardner, even after he manages to talk his way into the intern program at a stock brokerage. Seeing as how it’s a six month gig without a salary, it’s sort of like talking your way into the poorhouse.
For me, one of the movie’s major faults is that it’s so repetitive that every ten minutes or so, you get a sense of déjà vu. It’s just one calamity after another. Usually they require Gardner to go running through the streets of the city in pursuit of some crumb who’s making off with one of his machines. What makes these chases so bizarre is that while nobody in the Bay area seems to want to buy one of these gizmos, everybody and his cousin wants to steal one. I mean, you wouldn’t be able to pawn it for a nickel and, unless you were a doctor who dabbled in mugging, you wouldn’t have the slightest use for one.
What I could never figure out is how it was that Gardner, a seemingly likeable guy, didn’t seem to have any friends. Although he’d lived in San Francisco for years, he didn’t know a single person, man or woman, in the entire city willing to baby-sit his kid or allow him and the boy to sleep on a sofa when the only option was for them to sleep on the floor of a public toilet!
Another problem I had with the movie is that Gardner aspires to be a stockbroker. I have nothing against brokers, but if I’m going to spend two hours rooting for a guy, I can’t help wishing he aspired to something beyond getting filthy rich.