2006, US, directed by Gabriele Muccino
It's lucky that Will Smith is such a charming screen presence, because he does a damn good job of making you forget you're cheering for his character, Chris Gardner, to become, of all things, a stockbroker. While the up-by-your-bootstraps lessons of the film are well-intentioned, it's hard in retrospect to feel all that enamored with Chris's monetary aspirations, as if wealth is, in and of itself, the path to being A Better Person (unless, of course, you wish to join the clubby profession he works so hard to impress). The film also skates over the manner in which Chris's ambitions are the source of much of the tension that leaves him looking after his young son; it's hard not to sympathise at least a little with his double-shift-working girlfriend, focused on making ends meet to the point that she has no outside life. She's played by Thandie Newton, getting to do some interesting work for a change after far too many eye-candy turns; her absence leaves a hole in the later stages of the film even though it's necessary to the onscreen drama. Though the storyline is problematic, there's an authentically down-trodden feel to the locations, and there are moments when Smith captures, superbly, the weight of the world as it crashes down around Chris - made the more affecting by the (not always successful) attempts to shield his son from reality. The relationship with his child (played by Smith's real-life son), also feels authentic; their life together isn't always sunny, and there's a real tension when he grabs the boy by the arm or bundles him into a bus.