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A pig and a spider were no match for the charisma of Will Smith, as his inspirational movie “The Pursuit of Happyness” topped the weekend box office. Based on the life of rags-to-riches stock broker Chris Gardner, the movie is not simply about chasing the almighty dollar, but it is about breaking the cycle of bad parenting and bad choices by breaking the cycle of poverty. And while the movie takes a long time to set up the story, for the most part the payoff is enjoyable.

Gardner is a down-on-his-luck salesman in an unhappy marriage when the audience first meets him, but he sees his ticket to a better life when he has a random encounter with a stock broker, which then leads to the opportunity of an internship with a prestigous brokerage firm. It’s a huge risk, because there is no money involved in the internship, but it also an opportunity that could change his family’s life forever. Even those straight-laced suits at Dean Witter can’t resist Gardner’s sales pitch, and before you know it, Gardner has entered the world of high finance.

My problem with this film is mainly in the pacing of it. The first half drags, as it takes way too long giving us too much of the same information about Gardner’s life over and over again. The best moments are clearly in the second half of the film, when Gardner finally begins the internship and continues to persevere against unbelievable odds without once asking “Why me?”.

And perhaps the biggest reason that “Happyness” is a well-intended and worthwhile diversion this holiday season is that I believe there is a very subtle commentary about race woven throughout the film. In a culture where there is much lip service paid to the subject of diversity, we still see it in very small amounts on the big screen, but “Happyness” finds a way to approach the topic with both humor and heart.

For example,very little is said about the fact that Gardner is an African-American man tying to achieve something in a corporation that is, in the movie, at least, all white. Yet, there is no mention of anyone playing a “race card” or of affirmative action in the story. Hard work and earning respect are the keys to Gardner’s success, and yet the audience is not beaten over the head with this point.

Then there is Gardner’s insistence on keeping his son and raising him even when he could not afford to put a roof over their heads. Instead of taking the easy way out, Gardner refuses to become a sterotype of an African-American father who is absent from his son’s life.

While “Happyness” is probably not going to make my Top Ten list for 2006, this is still a movie that offers some hope to those who may be facing some less-than-happy times this holiday season. It is a pleasant reminder that no matter how bad things are, our circumstances can change for the better with a little hope and faith.

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