'Happyness' improves life, wins over audience

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"The Pursuit of Happyness" deals with one man's harrowing experience in trying to make a better life for himself.

In 1981 San Francisco, salesman Chris Gardner (Will Smith) runs himself ragged just trying to get by from day to day. One day, he discovers an opportunity for an internship at a brokerage firm. The job has no salary, but it could lead to a higher-level job.

Trying to nail the interview is difficult enough, but then his wife (Thandie Newton) leaves him and their son Christopher (Jaden Christopher Syre Smith).

Chris has to work himself to the bone in order to take care of his son and to achieve the one available paid position at the firm.

Will Smith can take almost any role and win over the audience, but as Gardner, he really makes a connection. His frustrating struggles and momentary lapses of joy are so genuine that they could bring a tear to the eye of even the most cynical viewer.

Will's real-life son Jaden makes his film debut as precocious five-year-old Christopher. He makes just as good an impression as his father does; Christopher repeatedly has to witness Chris take a step forward only to be pushed back by life two more steps. His performance is not unlike that of Justin Henry in "Kramer vs. Kramer," with his character facing adult problems at such a young age.

The title refers to the portion of the Declaration of Independence following the right to "life and liberty." The misspelling is part of the movie, in which a mural containing the phrase, spelled wrong, is glimpsed. Throughout the film, as Chris narrates, he wonders what Thomas Jefferson meant by inserting that particular wording. As he sees it, having the right to the pursuit of happiness means the right to try and make oneself happy, but not necessarily a guarantee that everything will work out in the end. As the story is based on the real-life events of Chris Gardner pursuing his happiness, it makes us hope that everything does work out in the end.

"The Pursuit of Happyness" gets a little sappy at times, but all in all, it rings true. Thanks to the talents of the father and son acting duo Will and Jaden Smith, it rises above the average "feel-good movie" and actually makes people feel good.

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