Everybody loves a film with the underdog overcoming the obstacles in their path and rising to glory, which is why feel-good films are so frequently released. Feel-good films about entrepreneurs are also pretty popular, as are films about entrepreneurs in general, which is why choosing just three is quite a difficult task.
We could look at Scorsese’s 2013 box office hit, The Wolf of Wall Street, where the initial concept of simply selling a pen transports Jordan Belfort into the chaotic world of the stock market, and from there into grotesque fortune and corruption. But in terms of inspiration, the ethics presented are questionable to say the least. We could look at Jennifer Lawrence in Joy, where we watch Joy Mangano invent a mop and rise to become the founder of a powerful family business dynasty. But in terms of reviews, this one is recent enough to be in the forefront of people’s minds. So we went back to the drawing board, honed our choices, and came up with these:
The Pursuit of Happyness
This 2006 biographical drama from director Gabriel Muccino portrays the struggle of a single father, Chris Gardner, who, for part of his life, was a homeless salesman trying to keep it all together for the sake of his young son. Played by Will Smith, with his real-life son, Jaden, in the role of his son in the film, the relationship between the two is naturally realistic, adding to the sense of emotional pressure Gardner faces. Initially a medical equipment salesman, Gardner gets accepted onto the Dean Witter Reynolds stock brokerage training programme, an unpaid scheme with the possibility of a job at the end of a six-month period. The only income Gardner has is from the few remaining Bone Density Scanner devices he has left to sell. With a young son in tow and a vision in his sights, he goes from shelter to shelter, even staying in public toilets overnight: his life is one of chaos, instability and hardship. But at work, he turns up early, leaves late, and works tirelessly to achieve his dream – a picture of diligence and motivation. The end of the film? Well, we’ll leave that for you, along with Gardner’s words to his son: ‘Don't ever let somebody tell you... You can't do something. Not even me… You got a dream... You gotta protect it. People can't do somethin' themselves, they wanna tell you you can't do it. If you want somethin', go get it. Period.’
Winner of the Tribeca Film Festival’s Audience Award in 2014, Chef follows the collapse and rebuilding of acclaimed chef Carl Casper following a public Twitter brawl with a food critic. Quitting his job, he is left aimless and angry, but is persuaded to do up a food truck by his ex-wife, and drive it back from Miami to Los Angeles, serving high-end Cuban sandwiches on the journey. Partly about his relationship with his pre-teen son, who earns his father’s respect when he shows him how to build the business on social media, but predominantly about how a complete crash and burn can often lead to a whole new lease of life. As Nietzsche famously stated in his prologue to Thus Spoke Zarathustra, ‘One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star’. A great film to watch when you need to re-group and reassess your goals.
Working Girl/Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead
Ok, so we cheated. These are two different films. Two plus two makes four. We know. BUT despite being unconventional choices for the list, these are both excellent, excellent contenders and we couldn’t decide, so we opted for a double whammy. Besides, people love getting a little something extra when they weren’t expecting it. So, really, you’re welcome. Anyway, we digress…
With both of these films comes the feel-good factor, the underdog, the oppressor and the love interest; one is more of a drama and the other, a comedy. But what ties these two films together most obviously is that both protagonists face having to challenge a stereotype in order to overcome it and realise their full capabilities. In Mike Nichols’ 1989 release, Working Girl, Melanie Griffith plays Tess McGill, a working class Irish American secretary, whose evening classes have earned her a bachelor’s degree. Her ability to think outside the box creatively makes her a prime pawn for her boss, Katharine Parker (Sigourney Weaver), who steals her idea and passes it off as her own, unbeknownst to Tess. However, when covering Katharine’s absence, Tess finds out, and poses in her employer’s role in order to handle the deal herself.
Similarly, in the 1991 comedy, Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead, Sue Ellen Crandall (played by Christina Applegate) is a 17-year-old high-school graduate, stuck at home for the summer with her siblings whilst her mother is away in Australia. As the title suggests, the babysitter, an elderly harridan, kicks the bucket soon after Sue Ellen’s mother leaves, putting her in the role of the matriarchal breadwinner. Going for a secretarial interview at a clothing manufacturer with a beefed-up CV, she is deemed over-experienced and hired by a company executive, Rose, as her admin assistant. Despite being thrown in at the deep end and having to get to grips with her workload, she breathes life and youthful creativity into the generic, tired clothing lines, and gives the business a way of saving itself from bankruptcy.
Whilst neither are strictly sensible choices for entrepreneurs looking for inspiration, what you do get with both of these films are protagonists who do not allow themselves to be pigeonholed into the boxes they have come from. A working-class, uneducated female in the eighties and a teenage, less qualified female in the early nineties, both Tess and Sue Ellen refuse to see themselves as purely a product of their environment, instead choosing to go out and fulfil their potential, much like the Deborah Meadens, Michelle Mones, and Jo Malones of the real world.