The Pursuit of Happyness (2006) Screenplay Analysis

The Pursuit of Happyness (2006), written by Steven Conrad, is an outstanding biopic that shows a man’s struggle to escape from poverty in 1981 San Francisco.

I had the pleasure of reading the first draft of this script. It’s rare to find such an early draft online and there were certainly some mistakes, which made me feel better about my own poor-quality first drafts. It was also interesting to note where the final film significantly strayed from this draft. More on that later.

Script Formatting Notes

  • Draft Read: Revised 1 Draft
  • Type: Spec
  • Page Count: 128
  • Reading Speed: Medium
  • Setting(s): San Francisco
  • Plot Structure: Linear, Spanning multiple months
  • Genre(s): Biopic
  • Theme(s): Socioeconomic inequality, Poverty, Grit, Entrepreneurship
  • Protagonist Change: Minimal

Overall Thoughts

I have a secret: I think The Pursuit of Happyness is one of the best movies in this century of cinema. Probably not the best, but up there for sure, perhaps ranking somewhere between #10 and #20. Here’s why: It’s one of the few movies with a protagonist that shows the full range of human emotions, from calm to anxious, from depressed to happy, from stoic to pissed. But it doesn’t use any extreme techniques to do so. And that alone deserves a lot of credit.

Script Strengths

There are many strengths to this script. Its strongest aspect is probably the ability of the writer to use descriptive yet simple writing to evoke our emotions as the reader/viewer. There are a number of ways in which this is accomplished, but one tactic that stands out is using the last line of action lines to describe Chris’ internal thoughts. For example, on Page 29:

He looks at his son for a while, getting the idea clearly that the way he lives is wearing his son out.

Script Neutrals

I don’t love the use of the voiceover in this script.. Perhaps that’s because the voiceover dialogue is more symbolic than anything; Chris generally talks about The Declaration of Independence. And this sometimes takes us away from the tense conflict in the scenes. On the flip side, the voiceover does add to the already strong emotion reactions we feel in some scenes, such as when Chris walks down the sidewalk after landing the job. So, the use of voiceover is hit-or-miss.

This draft of the screenplay contains many business meetings between Chris and his clients. These coffees and lunches show the reader how Chris found enough sales success to earn the job, but ultimately don’t add much to the story. It’s no surprise that most (all?) were cut out of the film.

Script Weaknesses

Perhaps the biggest disappointment with The Pursuit of Happyness is it’s macro flaw. The script’s message is clear: Hard work and true grit can get you where you want to be. And while that certainly can be the case, it isn’t always. After all, much of lifes success comes down to one thing; luck. And Chris experiences a lot of lucky and unlucky moments in the screenplay, but he is able to use ingenuity, grit and hustle to get out of them.

Yet, there were opportunities to offer a stronger example of unluckiness, such as with many of Chris’ encounters with socially disadvantaged; to show that sometimes someone can do everything right and still lose in life (that’s a quote that I’m butchering, I wish I could take credit). There were also instances where the film could have made a stronger critique of society, and the rat race for money, which we can’t all win.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that The Pursuit of Happyness suffers from the white savior trope. For what it’s worth, race isn’t noted in the script.


The plot follows Chris as he takes a, “competitive internship at Dean Witter,” in the hope of landing a job as a stockbroker. But instead of framing the story as a competition among the interns, the script essentially makes it a competition between Chris and all the struggles he has to put up with as an unpaid intern while also looking after his son.


There’s only one character that matters in this film and it’s Chris, the protagonist. In fact, if I recall correctly, he is present in every scene, certainly every sequence. Chris is a great character because although he’s intelligent (he figures out how to solve a Rubik’s cube in 5 minutes), he’s vulnerable and shows a wide range of human emotions, such as sadness, desperation and some level of despair. And he’s such a likable guy whose trying to do good for himself and his son that we overlook some of his flaws, such as not paying his cab fare.

Dialogue & Pacing

This script is loaded with memorable lines. Here’s one example: On Page 55 Chris has to decide whether to take the internship:


I remember wondering… Am I a good bet? Or not. Because all this was a bet I could shine.

However, some of the film’s most impactful lines aren’t present in this first draft. For example, on Pages 59-60 Chris doesn’t end the hoops session with his son with the now-famous motivational speech.

The pacing works well. As noted above, there are a few too many business meeting scenes in this draft of the script which were cut out later. The script builds to the final boardroom scene, in which we don’t know if Chris will be hired.

Emotional Impact

This is certainly an impactful script. What strengthens it is the fact that Chris is not only fighting for a better life for himself but also for his young son, Christopher. There are numerous emotional scenes, many of them centered around Chris hiding his son as best he can from the dark outside world.

Best Part of The Script

The taxi ride (starts on Page 30) between Jay and Chris, where the ability of Chris to land a internship rides on his ability to solve the Cube, is a fantastic high-stakes scene with a simple premise. The way the scene turns into Chris having to jump out of the cab as he doesn’t have money to pay is an example of great screenwriting. Our emotions mirror Chris as he goes from on edge as he tries to solve the Cube, relief when he does, and immediately back on edge again when we realize he doesn’t have many for the cab fare.