Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Resurgence of Excellence in Hollyweird (Commercial) Films: Can't Break His Will

Having worked nearly eight years in film production, I watch films with a hypercritical eye. Especially having read numerous books on film and visual imagery, e.g. Ways of Seeing by Berger, Story by Robert McKee, and In the Blink of an Eye by Walter Murch, my expectations are high when offering up eight to ten dollars for a film experience. Also, I should share that my film interests are wide: classic, Film Noir, films by John Hughes, David Lynch, Tim Burton (most of them), Alex Cox, Spike Jonze, and films written by Charles Kaufman, among others.

So recently I saw The Pursuit of Happyness starring Will Smith and his son. I entered the film house with little expectation of what it would be like other than the general media buzz that it was good. Being critical of the media, I knew that this was not a guarantee of finding it satisfying, but I went to see a drama about a working-class man who confronts the many challenges encountered when “climbing the ladder” of success or “pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps.” The film engaged me and brought forth emotion. That being said, I consider it a successful film.

Visually, the city of San Francisco is stunning and a stark contrast against Smith’s character’s humble apartment and hotel rooms in which his family lives. Without giving away too much plot, in case you have not yet seen this film, I will keep the discussion general. Again, being a veteran of filmmaking and its techniques, I was happily engrossed in the storytelling enough to forget that a crew was hovering outside of each frame – a difficult thing for me to accomplish usually. This is not innovative, earth-shattering movie making – as some on rottentomatoes.com apparently expected – but an engaging, heartfelt story of struggle in our often heartless economic system. Yes, some of the characters are stereotypical and thinly written. Overall, the viewer witnesses a moving tale of one family’s survival and disappointments, which either strengthens their determination or breaks their will. The son – Smith’s actual son – is a brilliant, believable actor. Personally, I have never seen Will Smith in a better film or performance – one forgets all about the radically opposite role he played in Fresh Prince of Bel Air. He deserves awards and recognition for Happyness. He will get it.

So, in review, here is how the film “roped me in”:

- Strong characters and narrative (traditionally linear in fashion)
- A believable story with drama and conflict building in tension
- A classic release of tension in the story’s resolution, however, one might decide it is too predictable; I did not – the actual scenes and dialogue making up the resolution were fresh and consistent with the story arc.

If you, as I often am, are looking for non-traditional forms of storytelling and filmmaking – Big Fish, Brazil, Magnolia, Being John Malkovich… – then this is not going to satisfy. However, if you are seeking a life-affirming human story of struggle and success, even more convincing or at least as heartfelt as Rudy, then Happyness is that sort of film. - Tim J. Nelson

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