I have to say, I haven’t enjoyed Frank Whaley this much in a film since his small but brilliant role in “Pulp Fiction.” Here he plays Alan, an ad man whose life is about to be turned upside down and inside out because of three women: his best friend, Marissa (Annabeth Gish); his ex-girlfriend, Janet (Dawn Eason); and the new love of his life, Tracy (the always lovely Amy Jo Johnson). Tough choices and comedic situations force Alan to grow up fast, and it’s not something he’s ready to deal with quite yet.
Relationship movies are tricky to pull off, but director John Putch and writer John Zaring do the impossible here; “Pursuit of Happiness” works the way life does. It doesn’t always go the route you’re expecting, and you won’t always like what the characters do, but at least it stays true to reality. Fans of “Friends” should see this in order to understand how people really react to life.
The director and writer aren’t the only thing making this movie a delight to watch, either. The cast is spot-on perfect. Frank Whaley plays a man everyone knows, and Amy Jo Johnson can’t be any better as a bubbly, SoCal girl “straight out of high school.” (She does such a good job with her role as Tracy that I hope she isn’t typecast.) The best performance goes to Annabeth Gish, however.
Gish’s Marissa is strong and vulnerable at the same time, and viewers only need to see how she handles her changing relationship with Alan to realize just how much depth she brings to her role. Her final few scenes with Whaley are uncomfortable at best, but that’s exactly what they are supposed to feel like. We, as an audience, have been so conditioned to believe that cinematic relationships end perfectly that once we see something handled honestly it comes across as alien and distant.
“Pursuit of Happiness” can compete with blockbuster fairy tales like “Maid in Manhattan,” but only because it really is no contest. This is the real deal, and it is perfect for people tired of the clichés and Hollywood-perfect endings.