Year Released: 2006
Directed by: Gabriele Muccino
Starring: Will Smith, Jaden Christopher Syre Smith, Thandie Newton
(PG-13, 117 min.)
"Success consists of getting up just one more time than you fall." Oliver Goldsmith
Forget all those clichéd Christmas movies that are dragged out this time of year like last year’s tinsel, and see one that captures the essence of the season without even trying. You won’t find another that better depicts the resilience of the human spirit or its strength and determination amid the buffeting winds of fate.
With a main character who refuses to be either a self-indulgent victim or the poster boy for Hollywood’s latest cause, no wonder Will Smith’s The Pursuit of Happyness is receiving only tepid praise, while the critics rave about the dysfunctional family celebrated in Little Miss Sunshine. But Smith’s is clearly the superior movie.
Will Smith plays Chris Gardner, a bright, energetic young father on a collision course with reality. It seems the bone scanning devices he has invested in are not the sure-fire success he had dreamed they would be – much more expensive than X-rays and not markedly superior. But he treks on relentlessly, a kind of modern day Sisyphus, carrying the awkward machines with him to polite but unimpressed doctors, desperately hoping to unload one so he can begin to pay the back rent.
A chance meeting with a wealthy stockbroker – Chris admires his flashy sports car – sets him in another direction when he finds out that even without a college degree, if he is good with people and numbers, he can qualify for an internship at the prestigious Dean Witter brokerage firm. Unfortunately, his put upon wife (Thandie Newton), more concerned with her dead end life of double shifts and indebtedness, likens the opportunity to a childish dream of becoming an astronaut. And given their dire situation – on the verge of being evicted and having to file yet another federal Income Tax Extension – her attitude is understandable if not admirable. While several critics have been quick to jump on her, Newton brings a dimension to Linda, a woman worn down by hard work and deferred dreams, bitter from drinking only the dregs of the heady brew she had been promised.
Ultimately she leaves, finally opting to put five year old Christopher (played by Smith real life son, Jaden Smith) in Daddy’s charge, knowing, perhaps, that he is the more dedicated parent. We see how this dad melds that dedication with the tight schedule he must follow, that delicate balancing act so familiar to working parents. Up at five-thirty, coaxing cold cereal down his sleepy-eyed tot, then toting scanner, Christopher and his school bag to the local day care, where Chris complains about too much television and the incorrect spelling of “happiness” in its doorway.
And just at this lowest point, he finds he is accepted into the internship program, a feat he has certainly earned through equal parts doggedness and daring. Knowing his resume isn’t very impressive, Chris manages to introduce himself to Jay Twistle, one of Dean Witter’s internship screeners. One meeting has Twistle scurrying off in a cab. Chris tells him that he is also bound for that vicinity and asks to share the cab. Twistle is fiddling with the fad of the day (it’s 1981), swearing it impossible to untangle the rubics cube he holds. Knowing this is a close to an entry exam as he is going to get, Chris swears he can do it. The colors fly as he wrestles his way to beat the taxi to Twistle’s destination, finally managing it. Of course, after Twistle leaves with a smile and a pat on the back, Chris is faced with his empty wallet and a taxi bill he can’t pay, the irate driver chasing him several breathless blocks.
The six month internship is not paid and only promises a one in twenty shot at being hired, but Chris takes it on, living through double evictions, a night in jail, homeless with his young son, where each day ends with a mad dash across town to line up for the shelter before it fills up. All the while, having the burden of putting good face on things.
Perhaps the most poignant is his first night on the streets. Shocked at finding the door locked, their belongings neatly bundled on the porch, Chris rides the subway deep into the night. How he manages to make sleeping in the subway men’s room an exciting adventure to five year old Christopher, only succumbing to a few unmanly tears after his son is safely asleep, is as great a feat as solving the rubics cube.
This is the kind of film that filled the theatres in the throes of the Depression, giving a flicker of hope to those who’d nearly lost it. Like the classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, we have a selfless hero who has every reason to give up on himself, but it is not an external angel like Jimmy Stewart’s Clarence that will save Chris Gardner. Instead, he must carve a piece of goodness out of himself to make it.
On top of everything else, Chris has to cook for his son, and sometimes even the old staples fail him. Maybe it is the constant tension in air, the palpable taste of desperation that makes young Christopher turn up his nose at his once loved Macaroni and Cheese.
At times like these, something special is called for, not just ordinary Macaroni and Cheese, but something truly inspirational, heavenly even. After much searching, I have landed upon the perfect recipe. Even if times are tough and the dollar in short supply, feast upon the three cheese golden delight of Million Dollar Macaroni and Cheese. (Check the source below for more versions, especially if you want something simpler.)
Million Dollar Macaroni and Cheese
3 tbsp. butter
1/4 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 1/2 c. milk
2 c. Cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 lb. Velveeta cheese
1 c. Mozzarella cheese
1 (16 oz.) box elbow macaroni
In large saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Stir in flour, salt, mustard and pepper until smooth; take off heat. Little by little, stir in milk until smooth. Stir constantly for 10 minutes on heat until thick; take off heat. Stir in 1 1/2 cups Cheddar cheese, Velveeta cheese and Mozzarella cheese until melted. Put cooked macaroni in a greased casserole dish, pour cheese mixture over and mix well. Sprinkle paprika and leftover Cheddar cheese on top. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes.
Recipe can be halved.
Recipe Source: Cooks.com