Based a on a true story, this tear-jerking tale of a single father's struggle to raise his son in the extreme poverty of the Reagan era serves as a blatant Oscar showcase for Will Smith. He plays Chris Gardner, a freelance salesman who stays one step ahead of the bailiffs by flogging bone scanners to hospitals. Desperate to escape his breadline existence, Gardner wins an unpaid training scholarship with a stockbroking firm, plunging his family into even greater chaos.
Now, the real Chris Gardner went on to become a multi-millionaire, and since this film is based on his own rags-to-riches account, it's no surprise that he comes across as a martyred saint throughout. Not so his wife (Thandie Newton), who departs in a fit of shrewishness within minutes, leaving Gardner in charge of their five-year-old (played by Smith's real-life kid Jaden). Father and son thus get to do a bit of bonding as they trudge from one temporary accommodation to the next.
However, The Pursuit of Happyness is a little less cheesy than its Winfrey-eqsue roots suggest. In fact, it's a deeply political movie, combining genuine sympathy for the homeless with a resolutely Conservative message: you too can become a millionaire, it whispers, if you just pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Smith certainly puts the hours in, whether he's ferrying his son to daycare, selling his medical gizmos or cramming for stockbroker exams. The poor fellow spends two thirds of the movie jogging up and down San Francisco, making the film exhausting.
"AVOIDS SACCHARINE SENTIMENT"
Smith is excellent, as always, and the rapport with his son is warmly realised - but then how could it not be? Happyness (the title comes from a scrawl of misspelt grafitti outside Gardner Jr's daycare centre) deserves kudos for avoiding saccharine sentiment, but its relentless emphasis on money as the cure for all ills is depressing. They might as well have called it The Pursuit of Richyness.