I saw the trailer for The Pursuit of Happyness when I was in the theater for the new James Bond movie, and it immediately induced an epidemic of eye rolling among my companions. Happyness is the inevitable Christmas spirit-stirring tearjerker. Based on Chris Gardner's autobiography, it's a rags-to-riches tale of a homeless man and his young son in San Francisco during the early '80s. Destitute and desperate, Gardner guilelessly enters a competitive, unpaid internship at a high-powered brokerage firm—eventually landing a job as a stockbroker, thereby embodying the ever-inspiring American Dream.
Here, Gardner is played by Will Smith (I'll let you provide the quips about the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air crying because he has to sleep in a BART station bathroom), while Smith's son, Jaden, plays Gardner's all-too-charming tyke Christopher, and Thandie Newton forsakes her vanity to play Christopher's tired, vindictive mother, who abandons them early on.
Bored with the predictable, cynical hipster approach to seasonally uplifting films, I welcomed the likelihood that I would cry during Happyness (insufficient explanation of spelling: Christopher's Chinatown daycare misspells it as such on a mural). I figured if the film made me cry, I'd deem it a success. Well, it didn't, but that's actually a good thing: Although there are some sigh-inducing moments of heavy-handed emoting on Smith's part (will someone please give the man an Oscar so he can relax and be fun again?), overall the schlock is meted out tastefully, spliced into a mood that has more to do with perseverance, self-assuredness, resourcefulness, and occasional fury than it does pity.
An acquaintance of mine had occasion to meet Gardner not long ago, and reported him to be arrogant and rude, leading me to suspect that his character has been sweetened to flatter a very rich man—which, yeah, kind of breaks the movie's spell. Nonetheless, Happyness is one of the few films in the "season of giving" category that can actually fulfill its aims without resorting to excessive, pandering blubbering.