Thursday, May 10, 2007

Pass the popcorn

My son and I watched The Pursuit of Happyness at home yesterday evening. The film is based on a true story about Chris Gardner, a black man in San Francisco who went from bad times, including a period of homelessness, to being a stockbroker and millionaire. As films are likely to do, the storyline strayed from the absolute truth a few times, but the message nevertheless came through loud and clear: Work hard, apply yourself, and you too can be successful.

Zach and I found the story to be interesting. Will Smith's understated portrayal of Gardner's character was quite good. My son also found the film to be depressing. He went to bed some twenty minutes before the ending, so he didn't get to see Gardner's efforts pay off, so yes, up to that point the storyline was indeed depressing. I'm glad, though, that my son agreed to watch the film with me.

The film represents to me two points of note: One, the intentional message of the film, is that application, perseverance, and hard work pay off. The other, more subtle but always valid in my experience, is that whatever your status in life, people will respond to you kindly if you follow some very simple rules: Keep yourself clean (even if you have to use a subway washroom,) reasonably groomed and attired, and speak and write properly.

I don't always have to see movies with happy endings and uplifting story lines, but since such films are fairly rare these days, it was a treat to see. It was nice to take a break from the 'film noir' genre for one evening and see something positive.


  1. Too bad he didn't see the end. I plan to see this. (I've always been a fan of Will Smith.)

  2. I absolutely adored this film. It represents everything I believe in: hard work will pay off, you can make something of yourself, and don't blame other people for your situation. I'd show it in every school in America if I could.

    It had the added bonus of making me appreciate my bed, my house, my job, my life all the more.

  3. I enjoyed it, too. Will Smith was great, and his son is a wonderful child actor and an adorable little boy.

    It was an added bonus that it took place in San Francisco, which I didn't know going in. The last scene was shot at the very spot I had been the day before, thinking how marvelous it would be to live right there. I guess whoever chose the locations thought so, too.

  4. Will Smith is one of those low-key but high-performance actors that leaves an indullibly good mark on any film he does.
    I saw this movie a couple weeks ago, and was taken with everything, except the ANC pimp-spots laced in at the end.
    For some excuse, anything about an individual of color is not regarded relevant by Hellyweird unless he/she is lumped in with the collective somehow. Mr. Gardner was an individual with individual circumstances over which he prevailed with perseverence. Curiously absent from his autobiography is any reference to a time when ir-Reverent Jesse/AlSHARKton or Calypso Louie stepped in and helped him out with a phat gimmee (glad that didn't happen either - unlikely as it ever was: It probably would have sunk him and his son) from the NAA(S)CP.
    Go figure!?

  5. Individual effort, Galt, is not popular with many. It seems somehow 'wrong,' or 'unfair,' or somehow out of balance with the natural order of things. I don't get that.

  6. It was a good film. If you missed my post "dc cracks down on hobos", go check it out - the DC mayor rounded up 100 DC homeless and showed them this film. My look on it was satirical, but there are 2 points I want to make: Chris Gardener had two things that not every person living in urban poverty has. 1, he had incredible drive, and 2, he was gifted with a rare blend of both pragmatic and book-smart intelligence. Too many people who see this film think that “if you just work hard enough, you can make it like gardener did.” It's not necessarily true. I agree that the culture of entitlement among urban poor is a huge (although not insurmountable) roadblock between poverty and the ability to be successful. It’s not going to just come along; there has to be hard work. But where I disagree with people’s reaction to the film is that it’s not ONLY hard work. Gardener was incredibly talented. Some urban poor people are talented, some aren’t. Some have raw talent that needs refining through experience and education. What concerns me about the public reaction to a film like this is (although I don’t believe this is what the filmmaker was saying) that the public reaction reinforces the incorrect assumption that all it takes for poor people to no longer be poor is hard work. Or by extension, it breathes new life into the incorrect assumption that poor people are poor because they are lazy. Because if they worked hard like Chris Gardener did, they wouldn’t be poor, right?

    I liked the film because it is inspiring. But in the inner-city culture of places like D.C. and Baltimore, it will take a radical reform in the Justice system, the education system, urban economic policy, and (as a white person I have no business saying it, but I will anyway) a change in gangster culture before simply “hard work” it all it would take to get a person from poverty to the board room.

  7. You make good points, bones. Gardner did have the advantages you mention, and because of it he was able to leap over some of the usual hurdles more easily and quickly. Plus, unlike the portrayal in the movie version, the real Gardner was actually paid $1,000 per month.

    However, the points I have made many times in posts of mine is that in a situation of where the two alternatives are either sink or swim, the result is almost universally swim. Where there are social life rafts of various desriptions available, their effect is quite often (almost always) the exact opposite of what they are supposed to accomplish. Complacency is a dreadful thing in humans and anything that causes it is counterproductive and unfair to those who rise above it.