Mom and I went to see this movie last night.
My 4th-grader nephew was with us. For him, it was a bit serious and a bit long, but he said he guessed it was alright. :)
This is "inspired" by a portion of the life of Chris Gardner. If you Google him, you can read about him and get some ideas of the Hollywood liberties taken with the true story. Not nearly as drastically different as the changes Disney made to the "real" story to make Eight Below, but a few differences are to be expected. This is a San Francisco Chronicle article that would give you a good taste.
First of all, it must be said that Will Smith and his son Jaden Christopher Syre Smith both do remarkable acting jobs in this film. Will Smith's Golden Globe nomination for this role is well-deserved. The quality acting really carries the story.
Another strength to this movie is that a person sitting in the audience will, for a brief while at least, really have an inkling of what it feels like to be homeless - and that is something we could all benefit from, to gain empathy of those in need, and perhaps a bit of compassion. Although it is not made a point in the story, if one pays attention, we also see something of the choices people make and the emotions involved that put them in such a dire situation and how they deal with it - how pride can hurt a man and his family and also help them. Thankfully, the telling is neither sapped over nor sensationalized -it feels genuine. But make no mistake that when you think things are bad they can get worse. The audience knew the ending would be a happy one and what a happy one it was, but when Chris Gardner was homeless with his two-year-old son (in the movie, his son is five) he didn't have the luxury of knowing that - he just had the dream.
A weakness is that the story runs long and you start to feel the point has been run into the ground, but it is still compelling. At times, you may find yourself questioning some of the choices made by the hero - could he have done more to improve his situation with a son involved if he swallowed a bit of pride? If you read up on the real Chris, you may find that in some instances he did do more but still had to endure some dark dark nights. On the other hand, you might get through the whole story and not think about it until afterwards - did he have family he could've gone to, friends, church? In truth, not everyone has these lifelines and some just can't bring themselves to ask for help when they need it. He is presented as a hero, but a fully human one who makes mistakes.
Did he have faith in God to pull him through? The real Chris has said a few things to suggest he believes he has a close line to Jesus, as he said, " Jesus loves me. He only likes you.' I don't know him to tell if he intended some humor in there, but he definitely maintains his pride.
From a Muslim perspective, there is a lot going for this movie - to learn about homelessness and feel a bit of it is a good thing. And as a Muslim I found myself thinking about would I trust God and keep faith if everything were taken from me? Would I hold and take solace in the belief that I am in God's care? Would I manage the balance between putting faith in God in desperate times and trying to improve my situation without losing my integrity? I suspect that no one really knows how they will respond to desperate situations until they are in them.