Picks and Pans Review: The Pursuit of Happyness

UPDATED 12/18/2006 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 12/18/2006 at 01:00 AM EST

Will Smith, Thandie Newton, Jaden Christopher Syre Smith

Raise a glass of holiday cheer to salute Will Smith. Rather than coast along through yet another slick comedy or explosion-filled action flick, the star stretches with a demanding role in an inspirational drama—and emerges a winner. The Pursuit of Happyness tells the (mostly) true story of Chris Gardner (Smith). Despite being broke and eventually homeless, Gardner struggles to become a stockbroker—all the while taking tender care of his 5-year-old son (Jaden Smith, 8, Will's real-life offspring).

Happyness—the misspelling is on a sign outside a daycare center—is a feel-good movie, but one that never glosses over the fortitude its hero needs to reach his own feel-good stage in life. Its commendable message: Never give up and never allow others to limit what you can do. Smith gives an exceptionally engaging performance, showing how Gardner's geniality, along with his drive, enabled him to succeed where others might fall by the wayside. The younger Smith proves a puckish charmer (like father, like son), while Newton makes convincing the weariness and frustration of Gardner's estranged wife. (PG-13)

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