There are several moments in the film that are touchy. It is as if director Gabrielle Muccino is playing up to audience’s emotions by circumventing their critical thought. The father-son relationship is both its strength and drawback. While there are genuine moments of love and sacrifice incurred by Chris and Christopher Gardner, they don’t counteract the major deficiencies in the film. For example, one of the turning points in the fortunes of the hero is when an influential person from the business world happens to see him solving a hand-held puzzle. This freak coincidence would prove to be pivotal for the hero to breakthrough into the corporate world. But what is the message being delivered by such a narrative. Is not the director telling us that luck plays a major part for success in life? If so, how do we the audience compute this information. It seems that determinism is the dominant philosophical theme in the film, which mutes the roles of free-will and enterprise.
On balance, not all aspects of The Pursuit of Happyness are lacking in merit. For one, the film highlights a pressing social problem in America – homelessness. Despite being the richest country in the world, the number of citizens who don’t have a home is depressingly high. Seen in this light, the film is an invocation for policymakers and social activists to make a change. There are more sociological perspectives at play here – especially that of race. Both the real life Chris Gardner and his celluloid imitator are both black Americans. It is a well acknowledged fact that racial and ethnic minorities bear the brunt of poverty and discrimination in the country. The director should be credited for implicitly projecting this chronic social issue. But at the same time, the deterministic or destiny-ridden narrative does a disservice to minorities. The latter would want to believe that they can change their fortunes through their own constructive actions and not through a government dole or society’s charity.
In conclusion, The Pursuit of Happyness has more demerits than merits. Taken purely as a product for entertainment it works very well. But in terms of the social message the film emits, there is much left to be desired. Although the film is based on a real life story, it is a selected story and not a representative one. Such exceptional stories as that of Chris Gardner create the illusion that the American Dream is within the grasp of all. But, unfortunately, such is not the truth.