review for The Pursuit of Happiness on AllMovie

The Pursuit of Happiness (1970)
by Craig Butler review

Very much a film of its time, The Pursuit of Happiness might have made some sort of impact on its audience in 1970 but it fails to make much of an impact upon modern viewers. Pursuit is a frustrating movie, because one feels that all involved were attempting a serious critique of society as it existed in 1970, but the result is dull and tedious and that mitigates its effectiveness. Part of the problem is that the lead character is, intentionally, a cipher; he embodies non-involvement and indifference, reflecting a point of view that this is a legitimate response to a nation in turmoil due to rot and corruption that has eaten away at its soul for decades. However, it's difficult to build a compelling film around indifference, especially when that indifference is taken to such an absurd extreme that the character prefers to go to prison rather than defend his actions (or inactions). Had this been treated in an equally absurd fashion, there could have been the potential for pointed satire and amusement; but it's treated seriously, and it simply doesn't wash. For once, Michael Sarrazin has a part that plays to his strengths -- a great look and a vacancy in personality that is just what the part calls for. Robert Mulligan directs with a laidback intensity that perfectly suits the material, but that doesn't transcend it and that ultimately therefore makes it rather a drag.