One reads Armond White's latest review, of Will Smith's "triumph of the human spirit" plea for an Oscar, The Pursuit of Happyness, and wonders in amazement how this could be the work of the same critic who also defends the conservative, capitalist fantasies of Spielberg and Gibson. But then one thinks back only three posts ago to White's "Places in the Art" article for Film Comment in 1984 and considers that White, like any critic, has his strengths and weaknesses, and that these might be informed by the fact that he's a religious (we're guessing, but pretty sure) homosexual (ditto) African-American. That's certainly not to say, in a stereotypical vein, White's critical reactions are predictable; rather, we can be sure his unique background makes him absolutely sensitive to particular subject matter and its cinematic representation more so than the average white heterosexual secularist (or even the average white attuned liberal film critic). One of those subjects is the African-American experience, and AW's Happyness review provides profound insight into a fellow African-American's misunderstanding of that experience as it pertains to nobody but himself. From what we've seen of Smith's previous efforts (and by the way, we, like Armond, are shedding our auterist skin for a moment to recognize that Smith is of such star power as to be the veritable creative force behind the projects he chooses to produce and act in, as in this case), it's clear the Fresh Prince has easily adapted to the structures and designs of the powers-that-be: if he ever had to adapt at all. We'd list his filmography and its overriding conservative theme, but we don't want to insult you. Unless someone sees it otherwise -- and of course we love debate -- we think most people would agree that Smith's take on the African-American experience is far from representative or progressive. So we agree with White. But unlike our look at his Inland Empire review yesterday, we won't spend as much time on this one, partly because we haven't seen Happyness and don't plan on shelling out eleven bucks to be granted that privilege (the theatrical trailer before Casino Royale gave us more than enough sense of this likely piece of dreck), and partly because it's so much more fun to pick Armond apart than to praise him. Nonetheless, some highlights:
[The Pursuit of Happyness is] yet another product of the Hollywood system, but this time with a personal message: I got mine, get yours.
. . . it has a pre-set, benign vision of privilege and luck -- a capitalist’s notions of grace.
. . . it cleverly sneaks-in [sic] bald-faced capitalist faith (and its concomitant indifference to the history of slavery and institutionalized racism) under the guise of sweetness and willpower.
Will Smith implies that the cities are now conquerable -- the Chris Gardner story is merely a brick in that public monument Smith is building to himself. Worse, The Pursuit of Happyness suggests that the drive for success is what defines Americans. In other words, Smith is no longer merely a figurine fronting the Hollywood institution; he now owns a piece of the plantation.
Damn. Not only insightful, but well-written. Are we dreaming?!
If you noticed that we've included no room for a take on AW's dual review of Bergman Island and My Dad is 100 Years Old, fear not -- we'll be on top of it next week after we've spent time recuperating from a busy week and checking out those films at Film Forum.