The Pursuit of Happyness
What parents need to know
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.
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.
Families can talk 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?