It got me thinking back to The Pursuit of Happyness, which I sat through t'other night (yawning only for the fact that a lot of this stuff we've seen before). Don't get me wrong, the film was well done, the characters believeable. I just didn't like the voiceover - it's an American thing isn't it (what I call the Jerry Springer moment), usually occuring at the end of a tv episode to give the moral story to the undeserving audience who've failed to pay attention. I mean, why do I need to be told that this is "my stupid time" or this bit's entitled "running" when I can clearly see the character doing something dumb, and then running (two separate incidents).
That's not the point, the point is Happyness uses some good ideas to generate audience empathy:
- Will Smith's character Chris is locked up for parking tickets the night before his interview to join the internship. He'll be let out at 9:30am, but he's in civvies, no suit and tie, and plastered in paint! Who'll pick up his son and look after him (it's such a blow considering he's just got his son back)? Will he get to the interview? What will they say when he turns up as he is?
- Chris has finally had someone pick up the phone and agree to see him, and hear his pitch, he flies out the door only having 20 minutes to get there, and his boss wants him to move his boss's car. The next scene is spent searching for a space to park it. He gets one, doesn't have time to worry about paying the meter, but is too late. He gets back to the car to find it has a parking ticket... and all his time wasted when it could have been spent calling and pitching back at base.
- Chris takes his son up to the guy's house to "apologise" for not turning up on time. Good ole Chris doesn't have to do this, but he's making the effort to go out of his way for the sale. They end up at the big game together, and whilst Chris tries his pitch he's shot down - the other guy isn't interested after all. Chris is devastated.
- Thrown out on the streets, the IRS having seized his assets, Chris is desperate to sell one more medical unit (his other job) to pay for his son to stay in a hotel, but he gets to the hospital and it refuses to work. Another night to be spent on the streets.
- That first night, Chris plays pretend with his son in the subway, pretending that they are hiding in a cave from dinosaurs when in fact it's a toilet. While his son sleeps, Chris holds the door closed, crying as someone beats on the otherside.
- Having spent a couple of nights in a hostel Chris is just heading out to collect his son (they have to get there before 5pm to be guaranteed a room) and his big boss borrows a fiver off him for a cab, meaning he can't catch the cab himself... and they don't make it on time.
All of these examples relate around Chris's need to protect his son, provide for him, and give stability. He's holding down the internship (which doesn't pay) with no bank account and trying to sell his medical units (which just won't sell), whilst looking after his son.
The writers (not a hard job since this is based on a true story) focused their scenes upon Chris's continual struggle against his pursuit.