oscar rodeo: the pursuit of happyness

Will Smith wouldn't kill nobody in none of his rodeos, and he wouldn't use no profanity in none of his rodeos. But this is Zembla's goldurned Oscar Rodeo, so we'll use whatever language we darn tootin' want to.

The Pursuit of Happyness got one Oscar nod, for Will Smith's performance. He plays Chris Gardner, a struggling medical equipment entrepreneur who applies for an internship program at Dean Witter. Soon after that, his wife leaves him, the police arrest him and impound his car for unpaid parking tickets, he gets evicted, and eventually becomes homeless, all while caring for his five-year-old son. Will's son is played by his real-life son, Jaden. According to our introductory titles, this film was "inspired by a true story". Which means, "mostly made up".

I've been keeping track of this film for a long time, ever since the filmmakers built a fake BART station near my house. How did it match my predictions?

1. Smith doesn't actually live in a BART station; he only sleeps there one night.
2. Smith does not sing; not on screen, not on the soundtrack.
3. At no point does he punch an alien in the face and then yell, "Ain't no excursion on this fare!"

I found myself watching for San Francisco landmarks or people I recognized. Berkeley legend Larry the Drummer makes two appearances, playing his trademark plastic buckets. The film is set in 1981, so old cars and retro clothing abound. There are a lot of scenes that take place in a BART station or on a BART train. The ads are changed, but the car interiors are left untouched, probably because today's BART trains still have their carpets from 1981.

I would estimate that 15-20% of the scenes in this movie somehow involve BART. Knowing that, do you think there's a scene where the train doors narrowly close on someone's hand? How about a scene where a guy leaps the turnstiles without paying? Finally, do you think there's a scene where someone narrowly escapes a pursuer by hopping on a BART train that's about to leave? Yes, yes, and yes, though that third one is implausible. When's the last time you didn't have to wait at least seven minutes for a BART train?

Smith initially looks like a threat to Djimon Hounsou in the "my son" derby, though he ultimately doesn't come close. One key is that Smith begins yelling "my son" BEFORE his son is taken away. Make a note of that, fictional black fathers. An ounce of prevention if worth a pound of "My son!"

Smith is on screen constantly. He's in nearly every single scene, and if that weren't enough, he also narrates the film. Not only is he constantly on screen, he's constantly running. He runs to make his appointments, to catch buses, to get to the homeless shelter, to catch a hippy who stole his bone density scanner, to escape an angry cabbie, to pursue a homeless man who stole his bone density scanner, to catch a BART train, and to jaywalk so he can be awesomely hit by a car. That was 3 1/2 Pitts out of 5 on the Meet Joe Black Hit-By-Car scale. Seriously, over 50% of this movie is Will Smith running or riding public transit through fake 1981 San Francisco. I do wish we'd seen more of his non-commuting life.

This is probably a deserved Best Actor nomination. Smith is alternately charming, angry, desperate, and loving, and he sold me on it. I particularly enjoyed the scenes where he talks to his son about school, though he is cheating a little bit by casting his real son. I could relate to Smith's character, and not only because he's stymied by parking tickets and public transportation. The one thing that was lacking was complexity; this was clearly Chris Gardner's story, and as such, we don't see a lot of negative things about Chris Gardner. I believe Will Smith is eventually going to win an Academy Award, but I have a feeling he's going to do so by playing a villain.

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This page contains a single entry by Sean Keane published on February 25, 2007 10:15 AM.

oscar rodeo: little children was the previous entry in this blog.

oscar rodeo: venus is the next entry in this blog.

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