Eye For Film >> Movies >> Pursuing Happiness (2015) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
In 2007, director Adam Shell made a film about his friend Nicholas Kraft, trying to understand why and how he was so happy all the time. Later, he started wondering about the subject more generally - why is it that some people seem to be happy all the time whilst others are not? What's the secret, and is it a skill that can be learned? So he set out to find America's happiest people. This is the story of that quest.
Most viewers will probably have pre-existing ideas about what would make them happier. It must be easier with money, no? Well, yes, but only up to a certain point - once people feel secure about food and shelter, extra money doesn't make a lot of difference. So what about love? Well, perhaps, but it takes many forms. Friendship is a common factor here. Love of pleasing objects - from upcycled junk to, in one man's case, a collection of onion rings - also seems to have its place. Romance doesn't get much of a look in. People talk about how they got through bereavement and the ending of relationships without losing their innate love of life.
Shell meets an expert who talks to him about different kinds of happiness, euphoria and eudaimonia, and provides a scientific perspective. This will be basic stuff to some viewers but entirely new to others - it's well explained without taking up too much of the film, and it lays the groundwork for exploring one of the key themes established by research - that giving to others is one of the best ways to feel good.
Though it might superficially seem like a lightweight, feelgood film, Pursuing Happiness has more going on under the surface. It's very alert to the fact that tragedy is a part of life and that some people face a greater burden of it than others. One of the strongest contributors, Gloria, is facing what may be a terminal disease, but she refuses to let it get her down. Her complex contribution avoids falling into the inspirational ill person trap because she's too evidently a complex human being, and not someone who experiences no negative emotions - just someone who deals with them a little differently from most people. Ultimately, that seems to be the trick, and this film is as much a how-to guide as an observational work.
A meandering journey through an intermittently bizarre and frequently beautiful landscape, Pursuing Happiness won't make you happy all the way through, but it's nevertheless a refreshing look at something once celebrated as a virtue which we now too often dismiss as a luxury we can do without.Reviewed on: 15 Mar 2016
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