If you've ever been poor, this movie may be hard to watch. It depicts poverty in America in gut wrenchingly accurate ways. I've been as poor as Chris Gardner, and, like him, I've been poor among very rich people in the Bay Area while trying to work my way up.
Chris Gardner is a loving father and failing businessman. He is chosen for a competitive internship at Dean Witter, a stock brokerage. The internship, which offers Chris a very long shot at a better life, doesn't pay any salary. Chris has to live without a salary for six months while risking just about everything for that long shot gamble.
Chris is really smart. He can solve a Rubrik's cube in minutes. But, he's poor. Poverty, like an octopus, keeps trying to suck him down to the bottom, and make him stay there.
His car is towed. His wife walks out on him, leaving him with a five year old son. He is arrested for unpaid traffic tickets. He becomes homeless. He has to rely on a homeless shelter.
All this while, he must appear for work in the morning in a suit and tie, and be ready to charm some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in the Bay Area. These people take wealth so much for granted that two of them stiff him for cab fare.
Having lived through similar experiences, I cringed throughout this movie. My stomach hurt. I winced. I cried. I hugged my knees to my chest.
The movie is very accurate, but painful to watch. I hope a lot of rich people, who think that they understand poverty, see it.
This movie will be politically controversial. First of all, it doesn't touch the race issue with a ten foot pole. For example, when Chris appears to stiff a taxi driver for fare (it was really the rich white guy who failed to pay), the taxi driver never uses the "n" word. In real life, I think he probably would have.
Is the movie afraid to talk about race, or does it not want to? I don't know, but I know that some will protest the movie's not shoving race in the movie goer's face. I'm not one of those people. The movie's approach to race -- treating it as almost incidental -- worked for me. As a poor white person, I can tell you that poor white people face the same obstacles Chris did.
Second, does the movie sell the message that if you work hard, you will succeed, no matter what, and does that message tell the truth about success in America? I think that the movie is open to interpretation. Some will see it as an indictment of poverty in America. The scene of carefree rich people driving past the line to get into a homeless shelter is pretty devastating. Other people will become angry because they believe that the movie's depiction of hard work leading to rewards, in some cases, is too facile. I disagree, but that's what you'll hear.
Third, is this movie meant to chastise black men who abandon their children? Chris is a role model exactly because he moves heaven and earth to be a good father to his son. This will be debated back and forth.
The movie has a big philosophical statement to make, that has been lost on many reviewers, for example, Richard Schickel in TIME.
Chris is shown running throughout the movie. Remember the title of the movie: "The PURSUIT of Happiness." Chris places emphasis on "pursuit." Jefferson, when he penned the Declaration of Independence, did not promise Americans happiness, but only the right to pursue it. Chris says, at one point in the movie, paraphrase, "I am happy right now. It is a fleeting moment." We experience happiness in eyeblinks. The rest of the time we, like Chris, are chasing after it.