Will Smith Gets Subversive
I hereby give Pursuit of Happyness a glowing endorsement. It is a compelling, energetic, and unabashed celebration of free markets, individual responsibility, and old-fashioned pluck. Based on a true story, Will Smith plays Chris Gardner, a man who never lets up in his dream of becoming a stockbroker despite the responsibilities of a young son and the lack of a college education. Smith’s performance deserves an Oscar nomination, at least if merit still counts for anything in Hollywood.
While the critics have generally praised the film, it has rubbed some of them the wrong way. More than a few have found it hard to stomach the novelty of a sympathetic black character in a major Hollywood film who aspires to be a stockbroker and quotes Thomas Jefferson without irony or apology.
For example, Jeffrey M. Anderson sees a “disturbing...depression era attitude toward the class system. Here, the wealthy are mainly kind, generous folk and the poor are angry and vindictive. Gardner's ambition is admirable, but the movie dimly believes that great wealth is the final answer to all his problems.”
With unconcealed disdain, Peter Sobczynski reports how Smith as Chris “ponders unironically what he sees as the great American meritocracy, by way of Thomas Jefferson’s phrasing for the Declaration of Independence. He’s especially impressed that the founding father was wise enough to see the 'pursuit' was all that might be deemed a right, at least for those considered entire people at the time (as opposed to, say, those considered 3/5ths people).” Even more unforgivable for Sobczynski is the film’s inattention to “racism, on institutional or individual levels.”
John Beifuss's summary of the main themes is misleading but equally illustrative of the mind-set of the critics: “With Reagan hovering in the background as a sort of patron saint of economic self-determination and Captain America as the son's superhero of choice, the movie segregates its characters into two categories: Guitar-strumming hippie chicks, homeless nutcases, Chinese-speaking day care operators and non-Smith black folks -- bad; rich white stock brokers with box seats at 49ers games -- good.”
Most of the critics, however, have faulted the film for predictability and excessive sentimentality. Don’t let them keep you out of the theater. Pursuit of Happyness is about ideas and refreshingly subversive ones at that, especially for a Hollywood film.
David T. Beito - 1/3/2007
Quite true....of course it could be added that Jefferson had nothing to do with this issue since he was in France during the constitutional debates.
M.D. Fulwiler - 1/3/2007
Why do people continue to misunderstand the 3/5ths clause of the original Constitution? Actually, it was the Southern slaveholders who wanted slaves counted as a full person for purposes of Congressional Representation. The Northern "good guys" wanted slaves counted as 0% of a person to reduce Southern influence in Congress.
Nobody is on record as saying that slaves were worth 3/5ths of a white person. (Most people believed far, far worse at the time!) This was a political compromise.