The story of Chris Gardner — homeless single father battles poverty to get his break and protects his son as fate dumps several tons of misery on them — is the sort of bleak drama that Ken Loach would normally make. The end of the story though — Chris builds own stockbroking firm, makes millions — is not very Loach. Loach would probably end it with Chris Gardner Jr. drowning in a vat of sewage as he tries to rescue a Labrador puppy. Who also dies. And it’s all Tony Blair’s fault. Probably. However, as far-fetched as the tale sounds, it’s all true.
At this point, you’re probably expecting lots of big syrupy strings, an hour or two of abject poverty and a huge moment of redemption at the end. Cue end credits, more strings and a 20 per cent increase in Kleenex sales... Well, you’d be wrong. Happily — or maybe happyly, just to annoy the spellchecker — director Gabriele Muccino’s interpretation remains miraculously free of manipulation. That’s due to a slight changing of the facts — Gardner’s life was, amazingly, apparently more miserable than it’s shown here — but it’s mostly down to a couple of great central performances from Will Smith as Gardner and his own son Jaden as Gardner’s child. Plus, in the thankless role of departing wife Linda, Thandie Newton acting her intense little socks off. While it’s undoubtedly going to get the Academy all excited — Smith’s a very good bet for the Oscar — don’t let that put you off. The Pursuit of Happyness is a very fine, remarkably schmaltz-free film.