The Pursuit of Happyness or Richyness?

Over the weekend I saw the movie “The Pursuit of Happyness” with Will Smith (note to readers: yes, they mis-spell happiness on purpose).  It was well done, excellently acted and a compelling storyline.  However, the movie left me flat.

Part of that was because I was vetoed from seeing what I think is the best movie in theaters: Apocalypto.  Then my second choice The Nativity Story was apparently not “San Francisco/Berkeley morals friendly” as it was only showing in one theatre in the area and at an inconvenient time.

Another part of it is that I’ve seen “the unbelievable TRUE story about man who overcomes adversity to find success through determination” before.  Sure the title and actors change each time, but the plot is basically the same.

But beyond that there seemed to me to be a big problem with the story.  The story revolves around a poor man and his son.  The man is struggling to get by after getting into a sales business for which he fronted a large sum to get into.  He decides to go another direction and applies for an unpaid stock broker internship that 20 people are given of which only 1 will get a paid job at the end of the six month internship.

The story is setup as being about a man who wants to provide for his son.  But it seems to me the story is about a man who wants to make sure his son grows up as the son of a rich man and therefore has access to wealth himself.  It seems to me that this man made a number of poor choices if his goal was really to provide for his son.  His choices reflected taking the 1000 to 1 shot to get rich that will leave you in ruins if it fails instead of the 2 to 1 shot to find financial stability that will leave you slightly poorer if it fails.  In my mind, the only thing that separates what he did from going to the casino with your paycheck is that he had some influence over the percentages.  It doesn’t change the fact that it was wreckless. 

(warning spoilers ahead)

The story (not told in chronological order in the movie) starts with the guy buying into a medical device sales business by cornering the market for the Bay Area.  As a result he buys what looks like about forty of these $250 items (1980 dollars, so think $1000).  But they don’t sell like he wants so he’s stuck with this huge inventory and the associated debt.

Now he’s looking for a change because he can’t support his family.  So he applies for this unpaid internship after seeing a guy pull up in his Farrari.

Are you kidding me?  This is supposed to be inspirational?

Let’s just imagine for a second that there was a second guy in his same shoes and that the guy takes the same actions.  At a minimum, one of the two of them is going to end up destitute and without anything to show for their effort.

There are lots of jobs out there that can provide for a family that don’t require putting your financial ruin on the line.  And while I have nothing against starting an aggressive and dangerous financial venture, one must always make sure that they are providing for those dependant on them.  If the venture risks putting your kids in a homeless shelter every evening without end, that’s not acceptable.  The time for that kind of a venture is before you have a family.

In the end I was left feeling unmoved because the story was one that highlighted not love for one’s family, even though it was the supposed point of the story, but the desire for greed in spite the impact on one’s family.  You can sugar coat “getting a better life for your children” all you want.

But greed is greed.

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