To cleanse our mental palates of After Earth, in which M. Night Shaymalan managed to leech the personality out of two of the most charismatic people on Earth: Will & Jaden Smith, let’s look back at Jaden’s debut in The Pursuit of Happyness. I don’t think this film gets enough recognition on Smith’s resume (possibly because three of his last four films have been notorious bombs and this was just before that string began. It’s one of the best turns of his career and from the moment you see Jaden, you know this kid is going to be something special, which he went on to prove when he carried a movie in The Karate Kid.
There’s a scene in this that destroys me. At their very lowest, when father and son are living on the street, they spend the night in a public restroom in a subway station and Will Smith is bracing himself against the door against thugs trying to bust in, giving everything he has to try to carve out just this little space of safety for his son. It’s heartbreaking. This is one of the best dads in film history. My favorite scene though, it one of the streaks of levity that pepper the film making it inspirational and not a dolorous slog. Will Smith is painting a house, covered with paint, and gets arrested for delinquent parking tickets. He’s released just in time for the interview that will literally make or break his life and he sprints from the police station just in time to walk into a Wall Street conference room, filthy and covered in paint. It’s earnest and funny, but desperate. Will Smith needs to stop doing Men in Blacks and start acting again, because when he tries, he’s about the best there is.