Hope can be cruel. It's that thing you still hang onto even after reason tells you the game is over. Having a little hope can be more wrenching than the simple act of giving up.
Hope is a vicious mistress to Chris Gardner. It's that one sale that can let him pay the rent; that one bus that he just missed for the job interview with a brokerage house; the one deal he is five minutes too late to make.
Hope keeps him going. But hope keeps putting banana peels on the stairs he tumbles down in "The Pursuit of Happyness." It's a poignant but relatively dry-eyed holiday weeper about a single dad (Will Smith) who always seems half a step away from success, even as his life spirals downward into homelessness.
A feel-good movie, you ask? Why, yes. But first you've got to feel miserable. And more miserable. By degrees.
Chris is peddling a bulky, suitcase-portable bone-density scanner, doctor to doctor. He's sunk all the family money into these things. And virtually nobody wants one.
So his wife (Thandie Newton, angry, defeated, magnificent) leaves him. He won't let her take his son. He was 28 before he met his own father.
"My children were gonna know who their father was," he narrates.
He spots a man getting out of a sports car and finds out what the guy does for a living. You don't need a college degree to be a stock broker. You need to be "good with numbers and with people."
Chris is. But his timing is terrible.
If only he can make an appointment to apply for a Dean Witter internship. If only he can con the guy who hands out those internships into letting him take a cab ride with him. If only he can solve the guy's new toy, a Rubik's Cube (this is set in 1981) and impress him. If only he can get away from the cabbie he can't afford to pay.
Smith immerses himself in this part to a degree we haven't seen since "Ali." He can play personable in his sleep, but here, he gives us a man struggling to keep his desperation off his face. The movie's sense that luck has a lot to do with happiness is a little unnerving. Nobody here can see how close he is to the edge. But the audience can. And we feel it.