The previews for “Pursuit Of Happiness,” an MTI release now bouncing around your cable dial as I speak, make it look like a frothy screwball comedy. Ah, for truth in advertising or at least a little honest ballyhoo. Rarely has the pursuit of happiness seemed like such a grim chore. The extremely talented but often miscast Frank Whaley (as Alan Oliver) has been searching for his one true love his whole life, a situation he has been in several times since he played Jim Dodge opposite Jennifer Connolly as Josie McClellan in 1991's “Career Opportunities.” But Whaley was a young-looking 28 back then and now he's very definitely forty. It turns out that Annabeth Gish as Marissa has been Alan's best friend practically since kindergarten, but they've both been way too chicken to face the reality that SHE is his one true love and VICE-A VERSA.
As audience members, we know this from their very first sequence together. Therefore, everything else that happens onscreen is pretty much a waste of time. We know that Amy Jo Johnson as Tracy is never going to wind up with Alan because they don't laugh at the same jokes. We know that Alan is never going to get back together with his beautiful blonde girlfriend who ditched him at the start, because she's only there to set the plot in motion and then laugh at someone else's jokes. And Marissa only has eyes for Alan, so there are no REAL obstacles to overcome, only contrived ones that make everyone look silly.
Frank Whaley always looks like he has to go to the bathroom RIGHT NOW, Annabeth Gish looks (and IS) ten years too young to have gone to school with Alan, and Amy Jo Johnson is virtually reprising her role as Julie on the WB's cancelled “Felicity” series. It isn't the actors' fault, though. Under John Putch's on-the-nose direction, it's hard to imagine anyone making producer John Robert Zaring's dialogue ring true. One actress who succeeds is Jean Stapleton as Alan's boss, Lorraine. She projects the sort of classy elegance Nancy Marchand was famous for during her reign as Mrs. Pynchon on “Lou Grant.” “Pursuit Of Happiness” is now available on DVD on MTI Home Video and includes the fast- paced trailer that should have set the tone for the movie.
© 2003 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 6/19/03
Pursuit of Happiness
USA - 2001