The Pursuit of Happyness

Movie review by
Cynthia Fuchs, Common Sense Media
The Pursuit of Happyness Movie Poster Image
Inspirational but often emotionally wrenching story.
  • PG-13
  • 2006
  • 117 minutes
Parents recommendPopular with kids

Parents say

age 8+
Based on 13 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 52 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about the importance of persistence, hard work, believing in yourself, and being there for each other. The heart of the movie is the strong father-son bond between the two main characters.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Noble father dotes on son and is dedicated to taking care of him through thick and thin. He takes his son along on job-related excursions and lies in front of him (the kid looks appropriately skeptical when he hears it). Chris also briefly discourages and yells at his son, after which he is immediately apologetic. Perpetually irritated mom abandons her son early in the movie.

Violence

Parents' loud argument worries their son; Chris is hit by a car, leaving his face bruised and clothes bedraggled; father yells at son for crying, frightening him into obedience; Chris starts to fight a man in line at a shelter, frightening his son, who cries.

Sex

Mother appears briefly in her bra and panties while changing into her work uniform.

Language

"F--k" written as graffiti on wall, noted and spoken by father and son; several uses of "damn," "hell," "s--t," "ass," and "a--hole." "You suck" written on wall.

Consumerism

Most products are used to mark the year (1981): A Rubik's cube figures prominently in the plot; Members Only jacket; Raging Bull movie poster; Magic Johnson poster, Captain America action figure. Chris goes to work for the Dean Witter brokerage.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Mom smokes cigarettes several times.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Will Smith will draw kids to this movie. But it's not an action flick or slapstick comedy -- it's an inspirational and often emotionally wrenching story. It includes some very sad scenes between family members, as well as a couple of emotionally scary ones. The mother becomes so frustrated with her husband's inability to make a living that she leaves him and their son. Later, the father yells at his son for a trivial reason and gets in a fight, scaring the boy and making him cry. If your child is in a clingy period with you, this might upset him or her. There's a very brief allusion to the mixed effects of classism and racism on the son. The father's frustration sometimes leads to tears and sometimes to angry language (mostly damn and "s--t"). A graffitied "f--k" leads to a brief discussion of the word, and the son says it out loud.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 7 and 10 year old Written bylightandlife November 20, 2009

Excellent and Inspiring Movie

This movie is inspiring. It gives hope to those struggling, and shows the wonderful relationship between a father and son. I also like the message of showing... Continue reading
Adult Written byLucinaPshegubj December 15, 2012

The best movie ever !

This is the only movie that made me cry ! Seriously, It's the best movie out there ! ,, I believe kids should see it, so they would realize that they'... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byboredgrl November 13, 2009

Very moving, and extremely sad until the end

This movie really made me cry! It was very touching and movie, with some mild profanity. It also teaches people a lesson on how fortunate they really are, and... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bymegan094eva June 27, 2009

Kept me reaching for the tissues...

I love this film, it is really good but really sad. There is one use of f***, and a couple of uses of other language that your average parent would not want the... Continue reading

What's the story?

Based on a true story and set in 1981 San Francisco, Pursuit begins as Chris Gardner (Will Smith) and his wife, Linda (Thandie Newton), are having troubles. She works double shifts doing hotel laundry; he's trying to sell bone density scanners (i.e., specialty medical machines that, as Chris admits in voiceover, are too expensive for most doctors to buy). When Linda abandons the family, Chris remains determined. He spends six months working in an unpaid internship at Dean Witter, dead set on becoming a stock broker. He's smart enough and good with numbers, he figures, having proved that much by solving a Rubik's cube in front of a Dean Witter broker. As he studies and scrapes by, barely earning enough each week to pay for meals, Chris is sure he's going to make it.

Is it any good?

Jaden Smith is adorable; he delivers an endearing performance as Gardner's son, Christopher, in what turns out to be a simple, sentimental, but ultimately inspiring movie. The film deals with the American Dream from a particular perspective, focusing, as the title implies, on the constitutional right to "pursue" happiness, rather than the right to be happy. In this manner, the movie is able to avoid focusing much on institutional racism and how that factors into achieving the Dream. Instead, the relationship between father and son, through all the ups and downs of family strife and economic instability, take center stage, with lovely results.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the appeal of stories like Chris'. Why do people like rags-to-riches tales? Why are they considered good material for movies? How close do you think the movie version is to the true story?

  • Families can also talk about the risks that Chris takes to provide a "better life" for his son. How does the movie show that little Christopher is both scared of having no place to sleep, but also utterly trusting of his dad? Is it OK that Chris tells a white lie in front of his son to get a job?

  • How does the film portray the decision by Christopher's mother to leave him? From whose point of view do you see this choice?

Movie details

For kids who love great dads

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