The Pursuit of Happyness
Todd Field's "Little Children" reminded me of Ang Lee's "The Ice Storm," a movie which I saw years ago and loved. Both films are ensemble dramas revealing the loneliness and desolation of individuals in suburban American communities. Both have in common complex portrayals of their characters woven into a story which builds to a deeply moving climax. Both are also based on novels. In "Little Children," Sarah (Kate Winslet) and Brad (Patrick Wilson) use outings with their children to begin an adulterous affair. Meanwhile, Larry (Noah Emmerich), an unstable former cop and self-appointed vigilante, makes splashy attempts to protect the community against Ronnie (Jackie Earle Haley), a man despised because of his history of pedophilia. As these stories intersect, we watch the actions of our protagonists with a mixture of compassion and revulsion, unable to fit them into neat, little boxes. Yet, it is as if the director has placed them under a microscope 's they stand quite naked before our eyes by the end of the film. And even then, the camera never lingers too long to make the point. This is a subtle and beautiful film from a director who is a master of his craft.
( Sherwin Das )
"Little Children" has been described as a film about suburbia but that simply doesn't do it justice. It's a subtle, complex and wonderfully detailed story, which is a real rarity in American filmmaking these days. The multi-layered narrative centers on an affair between dissatisfied housewife Sarah Pierce (Kate Winslet) and Brad Adamson (Patrick Wilson), a handsome but weak-willed man struggling to pass the bar exam while being supported by his formidable wife Kathy (Jennifer Connelly). The small, claustrophobic and "close-knit" community in which they live is put on edge by the arrival of pedophile Ronnie McGorvey (Jackie Earle Haley), who has moved back home with his elderly mother. In one virtuoso scene, a crowded swimming pool empties out after Ronnie is spotted swimming among the children. It's eerily reminiscent of something out of "Jaws," albeit with a skinny little man as the object of fear and horror. Director Todd Field ("In the Bedroom") brilliantly weaves the various threads of the story into tragedy without once having to resort to melodrama. In other words, the tragedy inevitably comes from letting the characters be themselves, with all their pathetic prejudices and foibles. If only there were more mainstream films as daring and satisfying as this.
( Tim Ochser )
The Pursuit of Happyness
In "The Pursuit of Happyness," Will Smith plays Chris Gardner, a San Francisco dad struggling to make ends meet. Chris sells portable bone density scanners to hospitals, but the low demand for the gizmo means his income is low and sporadic. By a lucky break, he gets the chance to enter a competitive stockbroker training program ...but it's unpaid. So by day he slaves as an intern, and on weekends he and his son (played by Smith's real-life son Jaden) hawk the scanners. As the film progresses, Chris' situation goes from bad to worse. His car gets impounded, he's jailed for it, and his wife leaves him. Kicked out first from his apartment and then from a motel, he resorts to queuing daily for bed space at a church shelter. All the while he maintains a shiny facade at his internship, where he rubs elbows with well-heeled partners. "The Pursuit of Happyness," is a bit too simplistic for my tastes. The only obstacles are financial, and we don't see the emotional toll that Chris' situation puts on his relationship with his son. But Will Smith is likable, and what's interesting is that this is a rags-to-riches story that focuses exclusively on the rags, showing in unromantic detail what it looks like to be poor in America.
( Sherwin Das )
"True" stories in Hollywood are generally more far-fetched than the wildest imagination can comprehend. But who are we to question the truthfulness of the truth in a "true" story? "The Pursuit of Happyness" is one such "true" story and a fine example of the genre it is. It's a grimy-looking 1981, and Chris Gardner (Will Smith) is struggling to make a living after investing all his money in a load of bone density scanners that no one wants to buy. His chain-smoking wife works double shifts before abandoning him and their son, Chrstopher (Jaden Smith). And so things go from bad to worse to worster to worstest to worstester. But Chris doggedly keeps on going. He takes an unpaid, six-month internship at a stockbroker's firm, even though he's homeless and continually dogged by bad luck. Chris never falters from his American dream though, and he's an amazing father to boot. Will Smith gives the best performance of his career in "The Pursuit of Happyness." He lends a real dignity to his beleaguered character, helping us to overlook the slightly grotesque undercurrents to the story. I've never been so relieved to see a man get a job. Good job, Chris.
1/2 ( Tim Ochser )