This is the story of Chris Gardner (Will Smith), who makes very poor business decisions until finally, triumphantly, he becomes a millionaire stock broker. If it weren’t a true story, you would laugh at its Hollywood ending. But it is a true story. And if the movie’s ending seems like a fairy tale, its perspective seems also somewhat jarring. Typically Hollywood portrays stock brokers as shallow and self absorbed, but this movie holds them out as heroes. And Chris is going to break into their ranks no matter what it takes: We watch as he loses his marriage, his home, and ultimately his pride.
I love Chris’s penchant for remaining unflappable, despite being thrust into humiliating circumstances. At one point he is interviewing for a position in an upscale brokerage firm in a T-shirt and soiled pants. When the boss rhetorically asks what people would say if the firm were to hire a person who interviewed with no shirt, Chris unhesitatingly chirps, “He must have had on some really nice pants.”
If the movie seems slavishly bent on Chris’s success, it doesn’t pull any punches showing us the poverty Chris and his son endure. Their fall is brutal and quick: from renting a home, to living in a motel, to sleeping in public bathrooms and homeless shelters. Most of us are not going to know this kind of misfortune, but neither will we see this kind of success. If we’re going to watch a movie about one man’s financial success, surely this is a chance to say more about poverty than something as trite as perseverance pays off. Ultimately this story is a sort of wanton celebration of Capitalism that doesn’t really make you feel good.