Richard and “CP24 Breakfast” host Pooja Handa have a look at some special streaming opportunities and television shows to watch over the weekend including “The Pursuit of Happyness,” a movie to celebrate Will Smith’s birthday on ctv.ca, “The Social Dilemma,” the Netflix documentary that may make you give up facebook, the Crave political doc “Agents of Chaos” and the bingeable “A Very English Scandal” on Amazon Prime Video starring Hugh Grant and Ben Wishaw.
Call it “Will Power” or “Strength of Will,” however you slice it Will Smith has had a remarkable career. He’s had number one hit records and a long running sitcom; he can flip flop from violent action movies to romantic comedies, from drama to animated cartoons. The only entertainment field he hasn’t conquered is porno, and I’m sure it’s not because he wouldn’t be good at it, he’s probably just too modest. This Christmas season sees him hand in his strongest acting performance since Ali.
In The Pursuit of Happyness Smith plays Chris Gardner, a down-at-the-heels family man trying desperately to keep his family together in early 80s San Francisco. A get rich quick scheme isn’t going well and his wife is tired of living hand to mouth. A chance encounter with a successful stock trader and his skill with a Rubik’s Cube become his ticket to a different world—but first he must intern at a brokerage house for six months with no pay. In short order his wife leaves him, he fights for the custody of his son, he gets evicted, thrown in jail and his one form of income, these bulky bone density gizmos he tries to sell door to door, gets stolen.
The situation is bleak and only Gardner’s sheer strength of will prevents him from going over the edge. I hate to say it but so far this story sounds like the typical inspirational “Based on a True Story” twaddle that clogs up the multiplexes this time of year but there is a difference and that difference is the abovementioned Mr. Smith.
The movie has a tendency towards the maudlin, the easy sentiment, but Smith’s lead performance elevates the entire film. The inherent sense of decency he brings to the role of a man bloodied but not beaten by life shines through. He has the exhausted posture of a person who is fighting disappointment, doing his best not to throw in the towel and give up. In this performance is a certain kind of pride and dignity that audiences will relate to.
The Pursuit of Happyness is a crowd-pleaser that succeeds because of one very good performance.
In his last film Will Smith played an alien with an anger management problem. In the new movie Seven Pounds he once again plays a creature that doesn’t exist in real life—an IRS tax collector with a conscience.
Seven Pounds has one of the most opaque trailers I’ve seen in a long time. Those looking for clues as to what the movie is about won’t find them in the promo clip. Is it a comedy or a drama? A love story or a thriller? Well, it’s all of those things—excepting comedy; this is one of the most low key, minor chord films of the year—and I’m loathe to expand on the trailer for fear of giving away the film’s big secret. I can tell you that Smith plays a troubled man determined to change the lives of seven carefully chosen strangers. To find out why he’s so eager to help, and how he helps, you’ll have to plunk down twelve bucks at the box office. I’ll try and let you know if it’s worth the money.
Seven Pounds re-teams Smith with Gabriele Muccino, the director of The Pursuit of Happyness. Muccino is the guy Smith turns to when he wants to do something different, something that stretches his well known, and well loved comic screen persona. This time out they have dialed Smith way back. Fans of the Men in Black Will Smith beware; he plays Ben Thomas as a man crushed by the weight of his emotions, a walking zombie who has given up on life. When a smile does cross his lips it looks insincere, as though he has to try a little too hard to curl his lips upwards. It’s a far cry from the Fresh Prince.
Smith pulls it off, but the film takes a little too long to get where it is going. In the first hour Muccino doesn’t give much away, keeping the reasons for Thomas’s behavior close to the chest. We are given hints as to what is going on and the odd snippet of a flashback suggests a tragedy in Thomas’s past, but we aren’t given any firm details.
This could have been an effective set-up for a thriller, but Smith plays Thomas in such a low key way—he spends a lot of time sitting in silence in a dowdy motel room waiting for the phone to ring—the audience doesn’t have any reason to really care what happens to him. Smith is a charming actor and can usually sell even the thinnest of premises, but here his minimalist character—at one point he says calling himself unremarkable would be a step up—doesn’t connect.
Seven Pounds is an interesting premise with some nice supporting performances—Rosario Dawson is lovely as the ailing Emily and Woody Harrelson, although he is given little to do, makes the most of his short time on screen—but lacks the heart to be truly memorable.