Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Pursuit of Happyness

Will Smith has something in common with Martin Scorcese, a nagging feeling of insecurity in relation to their work. They feel that, even though they are rich and successful beyond their wildest dreams, there is still something for them to prove before they can say: "Hollywood, I've arrived!". That 'something' is a paperweight in the shape of a little golden man named Oscar. Hollywood hands out these gongs each year in a ceremonial ritual of professional back-slapping, unrivalled in its opulence. The glitterati, the illuminati and the papparazzi all gather annually to worship at the red-carpet adorned altar of celebrity, pay due homage to the deserving winners, and quickly forget about the other nominees (unless they make a fashion faux pas that is!)

Scorcese has unashamedly made clear his desire to be an Oscar winner, and anyone who doubts this ambition need only watch 'The Aviator'. It's a Scorcese film, but not as we know it, as if Marty has taken his signature style and tailored it, made the scale a whole lot grander, added more emotional punch, and replacing the contemporary soundtrack with strings and things orchestal. The Aviator is a great movie, but 'The Departed' is more like vintage Scorcese, and arguably all the better for it. Why try to be something you're not? Ironically, in giving up the Oscar-chasing, and reverting to the style and themes with which he made his name, Scorcese has given himself a great chance of actually picking up the best director gong this year.

Will Smith is tired of just being asked 'who are you wearing?' on the red carpet of the Oscars. He longs once again to describe the 'honour' of 'just being nominated' as he strides purposefully towards the auditorium, grinning for the paps. You see, once upon a time, Big Willie suffered the bitter experience of putting his heart and soul into the performance of Muhammad Ali, possibly the world's greatest ever sportsman, and then losing out on Oscar night to Denzel Washington... a tough break, and 'Training Day' was over-rated and over-hyped in my book.. Also 'Ali' was a Michael Mann movie, and a biopic for god's sake, they always win Oscars! The Big Willie may actually have had grounds to feel a little aggrieved.

So what is the Willennium to do? Well, whether it was the tortuous creative process, the physical and emotional strain he suffered under the pressure of the responsibility of portraying Muhammad Ali, or the wounds inflicted by the globally simulcasted Oscar-night bitch-slap, W2K decided to give up acting for a while, choosing instead to 'appear' in 'Men in Black 2', 'Bad Boys 2', 'I, Robot', and as a voice in 'Shark Tale'. (Willie Will's character in Shark Tale was even called 'Oscar'). Anyway you get the point. The Fresh Prince was possibly feeling a little inadequate, and in need of more box-office success to re-establish his credentials. Whether or not this was his main goal, the movies I mentioned above were all box-office hits..

Then came 'Hitch', a combination of huge box-office success, and also, some semblance of acting effort from Will Willy Big 2K, or whatever he's calling himself these days (Snoopy Snoopy Dog Dog?). Hitch was a romantic comedy, and it proved very popular for Mr. Smith. So popular in fact, that he and his agent now believe that he has a viable platform to push for the Oscar...

And so along comes 'The Pursuit of Happyness', an unabashed 'oscar vehicle' to leave all other Oscar-vehicle pretenders in the shade. The Aviator, A Beautiful Mind, Cinderella Man, dude, these are your bog-standard Oscar vehicles. 'Happyness' has been on pimp my ride, baby, and may as well quite literally be a letter to the Academy on Will Smith's behalf:

Dear Members of the Academy,

Please find enclosed a biopic of a 'John Everyman' character who starts from nothing, believes in himself, and follows his dream, and all this despite unbelievable odds. He takes care of his kid no matter what, and did I mention that he believes in himself? Even though the odds are stacked against him? Ok, well, anyway, Will Smith would like to draw your attention to the fact that not only does he appear in this movie, but he even acts, and quite well in some parts too.

The Big Willie feels it is only fair that you should give him the Best Actor Oscar ahead of Sacha Baron Cohen, Will Ferrell, and Aaron Eckhart because, let's face it, they were in comedies! You can't give an Oscar to a comedy?! Also, Leonardo diCaprio can't win it, because he played a criminal. I mean, what kind of message does that send?! Plus, The Big Fresh Willenium is waay more Everyman than that guy!

Finally, I would implore you not to give the award to a dictator such as Forest Whitaker. Not only did he play a really bad man, one of his eyes is kind of funny. Is that the kind of Hollywood image we want to project to a billion people? (I'm just saying is all.)

Yours hopefully (fingers crossed!)

Agent to The Big Fresh Willie Willenium W2k Prince.

Ok, I should talk about the movie really.. (*sigh*). Will Smith plays a guy called Chris Gardner, who is in the process of hitting rock-bottom. His wife (Thandie Newton in a particularly annoying role) thinks he is a failure, and, for most of the movie, she has a point. He struggles to make a living and support his kid, played very well, in a kid actor kind of way, by Smith's actual chiseler, Jaden Smith.

So we know the movie is set in the 80's, because Willie plays with a Rubik's cube in about four scenes, and watches Ronald Reagan give a presidential address on TV in the first five minutes of the picture. (For those who are unfamiliar with the idea of a movie, this is called 'setting the scene', people, got that?). Although he is a salesman, Smith has an ambition to be a stock-broker. So he applies for an internship, where one intern out of twenty will be selected for the job. Doesn't that sound like the odds are stacked against him? Doesn't it? Can you guess what might happen? Can you?

Ok, I'm reverting to cynicism here, but despite the paint-by-numbers plot, script and characters, the movie occasionally hits an emotional note or two. Also, Smith does deliver a decent performance, but ... (trying.. to restrain.. cynicism... failing...) isn't that the only part of this film the marketing men wanted us to care about in the first place? Aside from a few good scenes, the movie is inane, predictable, and essentially, two hours of your life. Do you want to invest two hours of your life and ten euros/dollars in Will Smith?

In all honesty, this movie offended me. It has 'target demographics' in its very genes, is a thinly veiled academy showpiece for Will Smith, and insults the intelligence of the audience with its twee pop-psychology, Dr. Phil, cheap seven-step, self-help message of 'believe in yourself and chase your dreams etcetera etcetera.' Hero wins, Music swells, fade out, and I go back to the box-office to ask for a refund.

The Verdict: Has an Oscar vehicle ever been more clearly defined than this? Smith is good, but he won't win. Let me be clear here: look into my eyes: 'doon't gooo seee thiis...'.
The Rating: 5/10


Stevas said...

thank the almighty for sanity in the world.. If the Forest doesn't win its an injustice!

Anita said...

No need to employ the 'no spoiler' policy here then, eh? Saw him on J Ross; vomit inducing in his 'positive message' carry on. If I had any notions of seeing it, that would've put me right off. And the interview was a cringy love-fest, eugh. But why 5/10?!? I'd have said a 2! - from my position of not having seen it - but I don't think you need to!

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