When it comes to biographical movies, audiences flock to see their favorite movie stars depict their favorite people. Whether it’s an entertainer, sports figure, politician, legend, or whatever – people will support. It can be to weep when reliving Selena’s untimely demise, watch how a website that currently has over 900 million users was created by a Harvard nerd, or marvel at just how shaky an actor 50 Cent was in a movie where he had to portray himself (He’s since found his niche as one of the biggest executive producers in Hollywood).
However, the real gems lie in the movies about true everyday people who audiences can truly connect to on personal and oftentimes emotional levels.
The Pursuit of Happyness is such a film and 14 years after its release, it is still a relevant movie that touches the heart and highlights the realities of families trying to survive in America — especially as we experience a COVID-19 pandemic that has destroyed businesses and left more than 30 million unemployed in America.
This film is based on the life of Christopher Gardner (brilliantly played by Will Smith) who in a short while lost his wife, his home and his money due to his investing in a bone density scanner that seemingly no one is interested in buying.
Forced to live a homeless life with his son (portrayed by real life child Jaden Smith), Gardner struggles to maintain and is trying to find a way back into the workforce. This scene finds bad luck piling on Mr. Gardner, as he’s stuck going to a job interview having come fresh out of central bookings.
And that’s part of the beauty of this scene. It’s relatable. Everyone knows the butterflies that take over before, during and even after a job interview. We’ve all been there. Some interviewees tend to stutter, buckle and get stumped when asked tough questions during the interview process. Now put yourself in the shoes of a Black man in a windbreaker, jeans, and paint marks around his body. He’s being put through a competitive, corporate job interview conducted by old rich white men that are Armani down and give off the feeling that the only black they’re willing to carry is the plastic card in their wallets. But instead of being intimidated by the moment, Chris G’d up and took hold of the situation by being the only thing he could be, real.
He basically broke it down like, “I just came out of jail after being arrested for unpaid parking tickets, ran all the way here directly from the police station, and I’m covered in paint because prior to my arrest I was painting my apartment. But guess what, I’m that dude! I’m smarter than Jay-Z marrying Beyonce while he was still the man and I’m more determined than Kenneth Starr during the Clinton administration.
If you ask me something and I don’t have the answer, don’t worry. I know how to work the Google on the internet machine. You’re not going to be taking a chance on me you’re going to be taking on a sure thing. Oh, and did I mention I’m as witty as Kevin Hart and funny as Tiffany Haddish too? How can you not love me? You need me in your life, baby!”
And ultimately his honesty and confidence got him the job. But that’s where the realness gets deeper.
Even after being given a chance and cashing in on it, he still tells his would-be boss, “I’ll let you know [if I take the job].” Mr. Gardner didn’t know it was an unpaid position, and he’s not trying to be a 40-year-old intern (though it’s better than being a 40-year-old virgin) while raising a son. Circumstances change when you have a child, which in turn means that priorities rearrange as well (at least to responsible parents they do). Sure, a great opportunity is worthwhile when you have the time to wait for the payoff, but when you have a mouth to feed, time is of the essence and you need that payoff ASAP.
He stayed the course, endured poverty, homelessness and the responsibility of keeping his son safe while striving for a better life. At times, it seemed as if his efforts were for nothing, but they were being closely examined by the men who eventually hired him to a paid position, where he went on to become a millionaire.
As you can see, Will Smith turned in a performance so inspiring and emotionally taxing that he got an Academy Award nomination (and lost to Forrest Whitaker’s role of Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland). But that’s real life for the everyday person. Our lives aren’t riddled with glitz and glamor, but you can bet that the struggles we share can reach, touch and resonate with just as many people as those with fame. Boy, have we found that out during these rough economic COVID-19 times.
We can recognize the pain of the next man and respect the grind that he goes through. Now that’s real life for a reel world.