Upbeat Cynicism

what do you mean i lost my mind?

The Pursuit of Happyness, 2006

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I meant to get this up the day I watched it, Independence Day, but circumstances intervened. The Pursuit of Happyness is a perfect movie for that day, celebrating what makes our country the best that ever was.

What I liked about it (from my notes while watching):

  • The hippie chick steals from Chris Gardner (Will Smith)! And in the voiceover, he chides himself for being stupid enough to trust a hippie chick. I like this movie already. 🙂
  • The way Chris clings desperately to a phone number like it’s his lifeline out. Because it really is. When you’re down and out, and have no buffer or cushion of any kind, every little thing in your life counts. The movie makes this feeling very, very real.
  • Chris’s dependence on public transportation, and how de-personalizing it is.
  • Thandie Newton is unafraid to play a complete bitch. And does it well enough to make her completely unattractive in the movie. That’s not makeup, that’s acting.
  • Reagan is shown talking on TV in the beginning, and it’s not meant as any kind of a bad thing(!). ((OK, having listened to a little of the director’s commentary, it may have been intended in a slightly negative way, but he was mainly evoking the time, 1981.))
  • Chris gets noticed for something completely off the wall — his ability to solve a Rubik’s cube. Which is itself function of how observant and analytical he is.
  • When the American flag shows up, it’s not meant ironically.
  • “Don’t ever let somebody tell you you can’t do something. Not even me. Alright?” Chris Gardner to his son, almost immediately after telling him that he can’t be a basketball player. Damn can Will Smith act! And his son is good, too — he’s a real kid here, not a movie kid.
  • The missing shoe. He gets hit by a car, thrown through the air, and his biggest worry is that he’s missing his shoe. Then, everybody notices that he’s missing it. I don’t want to say that this movie is real, that would give the wrong idea. But it’s incredibly genuine in its observation of details.
  • Chris, Jr. has a Captain America Mego doll that he takes everywhere with him. ((As a child, I also had a Captain America Mego doll, and it was one of my favorites. )) This fact is not made a big deal of in the narrative.
  • The stolen moments trying to fix the bone density scanner. Chris is struggling each and every day just to get shelter for his son and keep his job running. But to be able to get money, by selling the scanner, he has to steal time to actually fix it. Again, nicely observed.
  • The use of music, (mostly) subtle and effective.
  • The way that desperation forces a decent man to become shockingly petty. When you’ve got nothing, and every tiny little thing that goes wrong could spell disaster, you obsess over even the most seemingly unimportant things.
  • It’s directed by an Italian, who told Will Smith ((Smith wanted him to direct it, and championed him all the way through to production.)) “This is a movie about the American Dream, and Americans do not understand the American Dream.” I think this is largely true.

However, it is not an easy movie to watch. Every time you think Chris Gardner has gone as low as it’s possible to go, one more support is cut out from under him. If you saw the trailers when it came out, then you know that at one point he and his son end up sleeping in the men’s room in a subway station, because they have nowhere else to go.

It is, ultimately, an inspiring story about determination and the greatness of America. In what other country in the world can a man go from shoddy salesman to homeless to successful stockbroker armed with nothing more than his own determination?

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  1. The way Chris clings desperately to a phone number like it’s his lifeline out. Because it really is. When you’re down and out, and have no buffer or cushion of any kind, every little thing in your life counts. The movie makes this feeling very, very real.

    *HUGHUGHUG*

    I like it whenever he says “This part of my life is called ______.” in the voiceover and “being stupid” is my favorite. Haha.

    I love the ending. The look on Will Smith’s face as he’s being told that he got the job is just tear-jerking. I cried even more when he went out and joined the crowd of pedestrians, clapping with his hands in the air and looking so happy. That scene is so beautiful.

    In what other country in the world can a man go from shoddy salesman to homeless to successful stockbroker armed with nothing more than his own determination?

    Chris Gardner’s fierce determination (as portrayed in the movie) was very impressive and admirable, but he wasn’t dirt poor and uneducated when he began a career in sales. I don’t think it’s to imply that this kind of man-made miracle could only happen in the US (or maybe you were stating a rhetorical question to emphasize a point :)). I’m sure many people from other nations have their own dramatic rags-to-riches stories to tell. One of our city councilors used to be a tricycle driver (remember those cramped little things we rode here? yeah.) and he only reached 6th grade (or something lower) in school. He’s not only into politicking, he owns several businesses as well. I dunno if became a millionaire though.

    (Just edit anything in my comment that you don’t like. *kiss*)

    Herself

    8 July 2008 at 7:11 am

  2. Oh, and I changed our Tumblr username to himandherself. Kthnx.

    Herself

    8 July 2008 at 8:30 am

  3. Will Smith’s performance is great, and the way he underplayed the ending was perfect. It’s not just his reaction, but the fact that he’s fighting so hard to contain it. Beautiful work.

    I’m not saying that pulling yourself up is impossible in other countries, but it’s certainly more common in the US than elsewhere, and people around the world know it.

    Love you. ❤

    Ian Michael Hamet

    8 July 2008 at 2:57 pm

  4. It is? I had no idea, although I can imagine why it’s easier to succeed and get rich in the US. Your rhetoric seem to imply that it’s impossible in other countries. What exactly is the American Dream anyway?

    “The missing shoe. He gets hit by a car, thrown through the air, and his biggest worry is that he’s missing his shoe. Then, everybody notices that he’s missing it. I don’t want to say that this movie is real, that would give the wrong idea. But it’s incredibly genuine in its observation of details.”

    Wouldn’t you notice it, too, if a man’s missing a shoe? I think I would. 🙂

    I love you, too. ❤

    Herself

    9 July 2008 at 4:58 am

  5. It is. My rhetoric may have been overblown, but that really is how America is perceived in the rest of the world — accurately, I would say, despite flaws — and has been for a long time. Recall the words on the Statue of Liberty:

    “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
    With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

    As for the American Dream, as Wikipedia puts it, it is:

    belief in the freedom that allows all citizens of the U.S.A. to achieve their goals in life through hard work.

    And yes, I think I would notice a man missing a shoe. I was trying to get across his acute embarrassment, but I guess I should have reworded it.

    Ian Michael Hamet

    11 July 2008 at 7:59 am


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