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Film / The Pursuit of Happyness

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"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 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, and 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.

This film provides examples of:

  • Alone in a Crowd: Chris after when he becomes an official broker. While the rest of the crowd is hustling and bustling about their day, he's tearfully celebrating finally getting a stable job.
  • Alternative Foreign Theme Song: Sowelu's "Shiawase no Chikara", the theme for the Japanese dub.
  • Ancestral Name: Chris and his son 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.
  • Arc Words: "This part of my life is called..." is repeated throughout the film and culminates in "...happiness."
  • Artistic License – History: In real life, Chris Gardner had left his job selling medical equipment before he pursued a career as a stock broker. Also, his medical equipment was never stolen.
  • 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?".
  • Awesome, but Impractical: This turns out to be the fatal flaw with Gardner's investment; the bone density scanners are an improvement, but they aren't seen as enough as an improvement for the price tag, making them an extremely hard sell for Gardner to profit off of.
  • Big Applesauce: Linda moves to New York early on in the film and isn't seen again.
  • Biopic: The film is based on the real-life Chris Gardner, self-made millionaire.
  • Blatant Lies: Chris does this twice, first to share a cab ride with Jay Twistle to speak with him about the broker internship and later to Walter Ribbon saying they were "in the neighborhood seeing a friend" trying to win him as a client, after missing their initial appointment.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Deconstructed. Chris is shown to be quite smart and quite a hard worker, but he made a big mistake investing his life savings in an overpriced medical device that he had to sell himself. It didn't matter how hard he worked, he was stuck with thousands of dollars worth of bone scanners that he HAD to sell but 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 land the job as a broker.
  • 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 that point 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.
    • Cecil Williams, the pastor of the church that sheltered Chris and his son during their homelessness, appears giving a sermon.
  • 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.
  • Chekhov's Skill:
    • Chris is shown nearly finishing a Rubik's Cube. When in the cab with Jay Twistle trying to do one, Chris manages to complete it which impress Jay enough to finally get a spot in the Dean Witter internship program.
    • In the interview where he is in grungy clothes covered in paint he desperately tries selling himself as the guy who may not know the answer but will admit it and do everything possible to find the answer. Once he recovers a stolen bone scanning machine he finds that it was broken from being roughed up. Several days/weeks of taking it apart and reading the manual he was able to repair it to functionality and sell it for cash he really needed.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: The homeless guy who thinks that Chris's bone density scanner is a time machine, even calling it as such after Chris gets it back from him.
  • Compressed Adaptation: From Christopher Gardner's autobiography of the same name, which encompasses a larger swathe of his life.
  • Darkest Hour: After running out of money and even the motel manager kicking them out late at night, Chris takes his son to a subway station and locks himself in the bathroom desperately trying to keep the reality of the situation under wraps.
  • 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. He takes his pursuit in becoming a broker seriously from the beginning, but once his wife leaves and he's left with all of twenty-one dollars in his bank account, he spends just about every waking moment doing whatever it takes to make the dream happen. This includes not drinking water during work so he doesn't have to go to the bathroom and not hanging up the phone between calls to get an extra eight minutes a day since he only had six hours to do nine hours of work.
  • 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. In one of their pursuits to get to the shelter on time, Christopher loses his action figure and cannot go back to retrieve it.
  • Fair-Weather Friend: Chris lent $14 to his friend Wayne, and then when half a year passes, Chris's finances have worsened and he begs Wayne to return the $14. However, Wayne says he's too broke to repay him, prompting Chris to try to reach into his pockets but Wayne shoves him away and slams the gate-door. At the dead of night while homeless, Chris returns clanging on the gate of Wayne's ghetto condominium. Wayne is never seen again for the movie, and never repays Chris.
  • First World Problems: The second half of the film where Chris gets the internship shows that because of having to keep Christopher with him he has to do more in seven hours than other interns do in nine, all while interacting with wealthy businessmen completely unaware of his struggles. Outside the building one of the upper managers of the company forgot his wallet and asked for five bucks to pay for a cab, and despite this being near the very last few dollars he had to his name he still gave it to him hoping that goodwill will pay off once the internship was over.
  • 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 Parents: Chris is an extremely devoted and loving father. His vigor in pursuing the position of a broker is fueled almost entirely to giving his son a better life.
  • 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 hell 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: The film doesn't have an antagonist and focuses mainly on Chris's financial struggles just to live day-by-day with his son. That said, some of Chris's hurtles come from other people, such as a street busker stealing one of his machines, a friend who refuses to pay back a debt, a boss giving him the task of parking his car while Chris is in a rush to see a client, etc.
  • Hypocrite: While out on his balcony with Linda, Chris tells off a neighbour on a nearby balcony for beating his rug outside, because it's kicking up a bunch of dirt into the air… while he and Linda are both smoking cigarettes in that same air.
  • Inherited Illiteracy Title: Happyness is on a day-care mural. Chris is very annoyed that it's spelled in such a way, since it confuses Christopher.
  • Jerkass: 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.
  • 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.
  • Mean Boss: Downplayed and averted with Alan Frakesh, the primary trainer for the interns, treats Chris rather like his personal servant, constantly singling him out for coffee runs and various other menial tasks. After pulling off so many tasks altogether at the office, Chris felt underrated as well as unappreciated by his office manager. Sending Chris to fetch coffee or doughnuts or even asking to park the car at crucial moments testify to this claim. But Chris didn’t wince.
  • Missing Mom: Linda decides to leave and goes to New York. She doesn't return.
  • Mock Millionaire: Downplayed, when Chris is having meetings with wealthy CEO's and even gets invited to join a football game in a private box he is carefully dodging both his exact role in the company as an intern and the fact he is so strapped for money he doesn't have a car. He isn't trying to defraud them, but sharing that information could be perceived as such.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: From some trailers, one might assume this is a comedy. It's not.
  • New-Age Retro Hippie: A female hippie steals one of Chris's medical devices.
  • No Sympathy: Linda doesn't care much about what Chris does at the start of the film and offers no support.
  • Oscar Bait: The film is an emotional biographical film about Chris Gardner, focusing on a man's dedication to achieve the much-sought goal of being a stockbroker while also keeping him and his son off the streets. Chris himself is played by Will Smith.
  • 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: Chris Gardner becomes this. Though all of his colleagues certainly worked hard in pursuit of the broker position, Chris takes it far beyond the minimum by not hanging up between calls, not drinking water, spending night after night studying, etc. He does all this while being essentially homeless and caring for his son.
  • Shout-Out: Dan Castellaneta's character Alan Frakesh asks for a donut, 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.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Chris spends a portion of the movie getting close to a potential client who winds up befriending him and taking him to a 49ers game and sharing a VIP box with Chris and his son. Then said client drops the bomb: he has no intention of letting Chris manage his portfolio, citing the fact Chris is an intern with very little professional experience.
  • 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: Type 2. Chris has to run away from an infuriated taxi cab driver when he can't pay the fare, and hops aboard a subway to escape. He ends up losing one of his machines in the process, however.
  • 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 arrest 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 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.
  • Unlocking the Talent: The whole point of the film. Though Chris was certainly never stupid, he put himself in a hard place by making so many of his machines that couldn't sell. When he realizes he has a chance at becoming a broker, he puts his intelligence to good use.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: What became of Linda remains a mystery forever. Though it is likely that just as long as she's fast and far away from Chris ASAP, maybe she'll find some happiness of her own, in her new life in New York with her sister's boyfriend.
  • Younger Than They Look: The real Chris Gardner was 27 when he became a stockbroker and Will Smith was 38 at the time, but Chris looks like a man well into his forties between his often haggard appearance and the gray in his hair. A very justified example given that Chris is a broke, homeless single father working long hours at a stressful job.