By Jeff Labrecque
Updated March 30, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
Pursuit of Happyness: Zade Rosenthal

Leave it to an Italian to direct the quintessential American story about an African American in San Francisco. Gabriele Muccino had never done an English-language film, but insisted that was an advantage. ”To appreciate and understand the American dream, [he said], you have to be a foreigner,” producer James Lassiter says in the featurette ”Making Pursuit.” There was another plus: Muccino’s limited English — good luck with his solo commentary — prevented him from coddling his star. ”My script supervisor told me at least 10 times, ‘Gabriele, don’t talk like that to him!”’ Muccino says. No need to apologize now, considering Smith’s resulting Oscar nomination. As Chris Gardner, a lowly medical-equipment salesman who gambles his future on an unpaid stockbrokerage internship, Smith has never been so stripped-down. There’s no floating like a butterfly, no Hitch in his step. His eyes and shoulders gradually sag under the crushing weight of his ordeal. The sentimental film lacks only daring: It quickly sheds Gardner’s deteriorating relationship with the estranged mother of his young son, and it’s not Guess Who’s Coming to Dean Witter — even though he’s the only African American in the exclusive intern program (the film barely hints at any prejudices). A director less enamored of the American dream might’ve paid closer attention to the story’s nuanced racial and social complexities. B+

Advertisement

Comments