When it comes to Will Smith movies, he runs the gambit. Good movies, funny movies, poor movies, action movies, and yes, even powerful movies. One of those powerful movies is being brought back into the spotlight by the streaming giant Netflix.
The Pursuit of Happyness is a 2006 Will Smith movie based on the true story of homeless salesman Chris Gardner, which comes from Gardner’s own best-selling 2006 memoir of the same name. But don’t be mistaken, the differences between the book and the movie are vast with Hollywood leaning heavily on the sad tale of Chris Gardner’s life while the book was much more visceral, brutal, and violent than what Smith offered. That’s not saying it isn’t a good movie.
The movie version finds Gardner (Will Smith), in 1981, as a struggling salesman, having invested everything he has in portable bone-density scanners. He is able to sell the scanners but the time in between sales continues to cause a lot of financial hardship for Chris, his increasingly bitter wife Linda, and their soon-to-be five-year-old son Christopher Jr. But Gardner is also a whiz when it comes to numbers, something that he shows Jay Twistle, a manager for Dean Witter Reynolds on a shared cab ride. But as life would have it, when Jay leaves the cab, Gardner is stuck with the fare he does not have. He decides to run, being chased into San Francisco’s BART station by the cabbie. Along the way, Gardner loses one of his scanners. But, from his chance meeting with Twistle, Gardner is able to compete for an intern stockbroker position.
The day before the interview, Gardner is greeted at his apartment by two policemen who take him to the station because of Gardner’s inability to pay his many parking tickets. Still unable to, he is ordered to spend the night in jail, causing issues with his next day’s interview. He somehow makes it but in his worn clothing. Despite this, he impresses his interviewers, landing the unpaid internship.
This news doesn’t sit well with Linda, who decides it’s time to leave. She may have a job in New York so that’s where she’s headed, telling Gardner that she is also leaving their son with him. Life goes from bad to worse as Gardner finds himself out on the streets of San Francisco trying to maintain his internship while raising his son. Toss in the fact that the IRS came a calling for some unpaid taxes and Gardner and son were in a bad way.
Will Smith showcased Gardner’s struggles on the streets with his young son, which lasted the pair nearly one year. They even spent the night in the bathroom of a BART station. Life was bad but Gardner’s perseverance was truly inspiring. His ability to continue pursuing his dream while also raising and protecting his son was nothing less than a miracle.
For his performance as Chris Gardner, Will Smith earned himself Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for Best Actor. He was also critically praised for his heartfelt portrayal of Gardner, though the real Chris Gardner initially felt that Smith was the wrong person to play him.
The Pursuit of Happyness also marked the debut of Jaden Smith, Will Smith’s son. He played Chris Jr. while Thandie Newton was on board as his wife Linda. The movie also starred Kurt Fuller, Brian Howe, James Karen, and Dan Castellaneta (better known as the voice of Homer Simpson).
When the movie was released near Christmas in 2006, it debuted as the number one film, bringing in over $27 million at the box office. For Will Smith, it became his sixth film in succession to premiere at number one. In total, The Pursuit of Happyness brought in nearly $163 million worldwide. This was the only movie Will Smith made in 2006, a movie that was sandwiched between 2005’s romantic comedy Hitch and the 2007 sci-fi hit I Am Legend.
So, why “Happyness” in the title of the Will Smith movie and not the correct spelling of “Happiness”? Well, the movie and book title comes from a mural that Gardner sees outside his son’s daycare facility. And to his credit, the real Chris Gardner has prospered in his real life. He went from homeless to the owner and CEO of Gardner Rich LLC with offices in Chicago, New York, and even the mean streets of San Francisco. He is also a well-respected motivational speaker.
You can see Will Smith as Chris Gardner now on Netflix. Make sure you have a box of Kleenex nearby, just in case.