Hollywood scores with The Pursuit of Happyness

Posted: Dec 25, 2006 12:00 AM
Hollywood scores with The Pursuit of Happyness

Hats off to Columbia Pictures and Will Smith for bringing out wonderful holiday film fare with this week's appearance of "The Pursuit of Happyness."

This has been a year of feeling bad and this terrific true story about a black homeless father turned millionaire takes us out of 2006 on a long overdue and welcome upbeat note.

This is a film about a man, a man who happens also to be a black man, about character and faith, and it is also a film about this country.

It's impossible not to be moved by this story about Chris Gardner. Struggling to make ends meet, his wife walks out on him. He insists on keeping and raising their son. But things go from bad to worse. He winds up in the street, sleeping with his young son in shelters, when they can find a spot.

Meanwhile, through pure grit and determination, he manages to get into a non-paying internship at Dean Witter and, despite intense competition for one available job slot, excels and is hired. He builds the opportunity into success and millions.

But, beyond the pure emotional power of the story, it also moves because it flies in the face of so much of today's conventional and most unfortunate thinking.

It surprises, for instance, that, despite the fact that Chris Gardner is clearly a black man, the issue of race barely registers in the story. There is no suggestion that he could have had more success with the medical devices that he was selling to white physicians if he weren't black. There is no hint that Dean Witter opened the door for him to enter their internship program because he was black, or that he was ultimately hired for any reason other than the fact that he was the best.

Gardner has his own Web site that, in addition to having his bio, also links both to his book and to the film. So he clearly is comfortable with his story as told by Will Smith.

At a time when the media and the politicians are incensed at record breaking incomes on Wall Street, here is a story of a poor black man who wasn't asking why are they making so much, but wanted to know how he could do it.

His life and his thinking focus and crystallize when he meets a guy parking his red Ferrari. He asks him two questions: "What do you do? And, how do you do that?" He was a broker.

Maybe if our new Democratic leaders catch this film over the holiday break it will help them to start asking the right questions when they reconvene.

The politics of envy do not point to the way out of poverty. Character, aspirations, hard work, and freedom do.

There's also the issue of faith. This is by no means pushed in any heavy handed way in the film. But nevertheless it is there and it is important to notice.

The shelters where Gardner found temporary safe harbor for himself and his son were operated by ministries. And, when he was at rock bottom, when it seemed like things could not get worse, there he was in the shelter church, bolstering his faith to go on.

It's an important message for a Christmas season film. Particularly at a time when somehow it has become in vogue, or expedient, to call Christmas a secular holiday. The film reminds us of the dangers of dealing with either the worst of times or the best of times without awareness of that which lies beyond us.

And, of course, a film taking its title from Thomas Jefferson's famous words about "the pursuit of happiness" is indeed a film about our USA.

We are taking a beating these days, and I'm not talking about Iraq. I'm talking about a world in which it is becoming more and more acceptable to hate America. And, I'm talking about a kind of black mood and depression that has been gripping us at home.

The Pursuit of Happyness rings out the year with a reminder of the singular greatness of our country. If the Iraqis, the French, or anyone else wants to know what freedom is about, they can visit us and see.

The only barriers to success in America are those that individuals erect for themselves.

Chris Gardner's story shows us that the formula for realizing dreams is a free country with men and women of character and faith.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.