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Film / The Pursuit of Happyness

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Chris carrying his son.
"It was right then that I started thinking about Thomas Jefferson on the Declaration of Independence and the part about our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And I remember thinking how did he know to put the pursuit part in there? That maybe happiness is something that we can only pursue and maybe we can actually never have it. No matter what. How did he know that?"
Christopher Gardner, The Pursuit of Happyness

The Pursuit of Happyness is a 2006 biographical film based on the life of Chris Gardner, a self-made millionaire played by Will Smith.

Gardner invests the family savings in a new type of bone density scanner which is more expensive but with clearer imaging. This investment ultimately causes troubles between himself and his wife, causing her to leave him with their young son, Christopher (played by Smith's real life son, Jaden). Gardner then gets a 6-month, unpaid internship at Dean Witter, a brokerage firm.

The 'unpaid' part makes life very difficult. It's not long before Gardner and his son are homeless, and have to rely on each other to have a chance at an actual job.

Because of his excellent work, he is offered a job as a broker.


This film provides examples of:

  • Adult Fear: The entire film. All of Chris' pursuits are done with the main goal of giving his son a good life. That includes immersing him in a fantasy involving dinosaurs and caves when they're forced to sleep in a metro bathroom.
  • Alone in a Crowd: Chris after when he becomes an official broker.
  • Alternative Foreign Theme Song/Award-Bait Song: Sowelu's "Shiawase no Chikara", the theme for the Japanese dub.
  • Arc Words: "This part of my life is called..."
  • Avoid the Dreaded G Rating: The opening scene with the "happyness" graffiti has the word "fuck" clearly seen spray-painted on the wall. This seems to have been done intentionally to avoid a PG rating.
    • It also leads to one of the few humorous moments in the film when, upon being told that the "happyness" spelling is incorrect, Chris' son immediately asks "Is 'fuck' spelled right?".
  • Big Applesauce: Linda moves to New York early on in the film and isn't seen again.
  • Biopic
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Deconstructed, Chris is shown to be quite smart and quite a hard worker, but he made a big mistake investing in a mediocre medical device that he had to store and sell himself. It didn't matter how hard he worked, he was stuck with thousands of dollars worth of equipment that he HAD to sell and couldn't, making it seem like he couldn't hold down a job. It wasn't until he sold off the last one that he was able to lock down the internship and get a job as a broker.
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  • Broken Aesop: Halfway through, Chris makes quite a good observation that you can only pursue happiness, and expecting to actually have it for more than a brief moment at a time is an illusion. The film ends with a Happy Ending implying everything will be alright from now on.
  • The Cameo: The real Chris Gardner is the man in a suit and tie who walks past Chris and Christopher in the film's final scene.
  • Chekhov's Gun: One of Chris' bone scanners is stolen and passes through several hands around San Francisco before eventually making its way back to Chris at a time where he really needs the money earned from selling one.
  • Compressed Adaptation: From Christopher Gardner's autobiography of the same name, which encompasses a larger swathe of his life.
  • Daycare Nightmare: Gardner has to leave his son at a daycare while he desperately tries to make ends meet for his family. However, he becomes increasingly displeased with the service because the children seem to receive no education at all, have to watch TV the whole day, and a mural outside the daycare spells "Happyness" rather than "Happiness", thus giving us the movie title.
  • Determinator: Chris.
  • Disappeared Dad: Played straight with Chris's father, averted with Chris himself. Chris says that he didn't meet his father for the first time until he was twenty-eight years old. He thus decided that when he had children himself, they were going to know who their father was.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: "Maybe happiness is something that we can only pursue and maybe we can actually never have it" - but then again, maybe we can.
  • Empathy Doll Shot: Something similar is done with a Captain America action figure.
  • The Film Of The Meme: One can say this is like Bad Luck Brian, The Movie, albeit played almost exclusively for drama. Luck is simply not on Chris' side for 95 percent of the film, but determination definitely is.
  • Get Out!: When Chris chews Linda out, she says that she wants to leave. Chris tells her to do so, but that Christopher is staying with him.
  • Good Parent: Chris is an extremely devoted and loving father.
  • Hate Sink: The film has No Antagonist, apart from quite possibly the enormous struggle that Chris has to go through over the course of the film in order to give Christopher a good life. So we have Linda, Chris's Jerkass wife who only seems to think about herself, offers no support to Chris when he needs it, and threatens to leave and take Christopher with her. Understandably, when Chris finds her after that one, he is furious with her and tells her to "get the fuck out of here". Then she leaves for New York, but agrees to leave Christopher with Chris, which is possibly the only decent thing we see her do.
  • Heroes Act, Villains Hinder
  • Inherited Illiteracy Title: Happyness is on a day-care mural.
  • Jerk Ass: Linda. Partly justified in that if Chris hadn't invested his life savings into the bone density scanners, things would have gone very differently. Still, after Linda threatens to leave and take Christopher with her the angry chewing out that Chris gives her is entirely deserved.
  • Like Father, Like Son: Chris and Christopher have the same first name. To distinguish between the two, Chris is only ever referred to as Chris, and Christopher is only ever referred to as Christopher.
  • Manly Tears: Chris sheds these as someone is banging on the locked door of the metro bathroom he and Christopher are forced to sleep in.
    • He's also clearly fighting them back at the end when Frohm informs him he has been accepted as a broker at Dean Witter Reynolds.
  • Missing Mom: Linda decides to leave and goes to New York.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: From some trailers, one might assume this is a comedy. It's not.
  • No Sympathy: Linda doesn't care much about what Chris does at the start of the film and offers no support.
  • Oscar Bait
  • Rags to Riches: Chris Gardner becomes a millionaire entrepreneur in Real Life.
  • Rubik's Cube International Genius Symbol: One of the first clues the audience (and Jay Twistle, a manager for Dean Witter Reynolds) get to the fact that Chris is a really intelligent guy is his ability to solve a Rubik's Cube. At least, it impresses Jay, who had previously thought such a feat impossible; this earns Chris his interview.
  • Self-Made Man: Christopher Gardner becomes this.
  • Shout-Out: Dan Castellaneta's character Alan Frakesh asks for a donut in one of the office scenes, which may be an allusion to his most famous role.
  • Symbolism: Chris refers to the beach as a place to escape to, "far away from anything [and] everything". In the final scene, the ocean is seen again for the second time, and Chris and his son are seen walking in its direction. Harmony is reestablished in their lives as they make a symbolic return to peace.
  • Taking the Kids: Christopher's wife, Linda, tries to do this, though eventually she agrees not to.
  • Title Drop: This line from one of Chris's narrations (which, unlike the title, which gets its incorrect spelling from a daycare mural, spells "happiness" correctly): "It was right then that I started thinking about Thomas Jefferson on the Declaration of Independence and the part about our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
  • Train Escape
  • Trauma Conga Line: The film acts as such for Chris Gardner. He starts with a dead-end job selling overpriced medical equipment and a wife who practically despises him. His son doesn't learn much because of the incompetence of the cheap daycare center. Then his equipment gets stolen – twice – once by a busking hippie girl, then by a mentally-unstable hobo who thinks he got himself a time machine. (It doesn't help that the machine isn't working when Chris gets it back from the hobo.) His wife leaves him, the cops bust him while painting his house for nonpayment of parking tickets, forcing him to attend his job interview in a dumpy jacket and tank top stained with white paint, he and Christopher Jr. are rendered homeless twice over when they can't pay the rent, and in between those events, he earns the ire of a cab driver (because he was too broke to pay the fare) and a motorist (who struck him while he was chasing the "time machine"-stealing hobo). Also, you've got Wayne turning out to be a fair-weather friend, and Chris losing his car at some point in the movie. In the end, however, everything works out for Chris and his son.
  • Truth in Television: In fact, the real Christopher Gardner is shown in the end in a suit and tie.
  • Unlocking the Talent: The whole point of the film.


Example of: