The Pursuit of Happyness was a commercially successful film whose main appeal is its ‘feel-good’ ending. It treads the much worn path of the rags-to-riches narrative, albeit with some variations in plot, characterization and context. This essay would argue that despite the commercial success of the film, it fails as a social instrument. In other words, if the purpose of cinema is not merely to entertain but also to educate, the Pursuit of Happyness fails on the latter count. The essay will also analyze the major themes in the film.
The main criticism is toward its core message that among the thousands of honest aspirants for the American Dream only a few lucky ones make through. The final shot of the film is not merely the triumph of its protagonist, but equally the defeat of multitudes of his brethren. The defeated cannot said to have all been less industrious than our hero. Luck plays a major role in deciding who succeeds. One also needs to question the kind of culture in which the odds are so stacked that only one in a thousand makes it big in life. If the purpose of the film is to celebrate the glamour of the American Dream, then it fails substantially in meeting this objective.
A disappointing feature of the film is its predictable plotline. The much treaded rags- to-riches theme is tried yet again in the Pursuit of Happyness. Almost from the moment the homeless hero is introduced one has a sense of predictability of what awaits him. The already encumbered hero will be subject to further distress, before he emerges triumphant as a result of industry or ingenuity. In Chris Gardner we have all apt qualities of the disadvantaged hero – black, impoverished, married and professionally uncertain. His wife’s estrangement from him due to his financial failures adds to the melodrama. It can be claimed that director Gabrielle Muccino had gone a little overboard in creating sympathy for his lead characters. It would have served the film well had the focus been more on crisp screenplay and editing.
The focus on the theme of consummation of the American Dream actually distorts the bitter reality of American society. The story is based on the real life of Chris Gardner, who struggled through poverty and went on to become a successful businessman – he founded and managed his own brokerage firm in the 1990s. But the verity of Chris Gardner’s story does not exclude the stark reality of homelessness in America. While Gardner was fortunate enough to escape poverty, millions of Americans are yet homeless.