Saturday, June 1, 2013
Making Jaden Smith happen
Will Smith has spent the better part of the past decade more interested in whether his son has a career than whether he has one.
And because he is such a Hollywood heavyweight with so much muscle -- both financial, and the more abstract power of his reputation -- it's hard to say whether Jaden Smith is "happening" organically, or merely through the force of Will Smith's ... well, Will Smith's will.
Put more simply: Is Jaden Smith really a star, or is Will Smith just succeeding in telling us he's a star?
What got me thinking about this was a billboard I saw recently for After Earth, which opens today, in which neither the senior Smith's name nor his face appears. It's kind of like the one you're seeing in this picture here, except it was horizontal rather than vertical, and there was no companion billboard feature only Will's name and face. (You'd be wise to ask, however, which is the elder and which is the younger. Starting with the Seven Pounds billboard a few years back, I swear they are doing some kind of reverse aging thing on Will Smith.)
Jaden Smith's solo billboard is designed to make us think that Jaden himself can open a picture, even without his daddy. But is that real, or is it just hype?
It'd help to take a little look at his career thus far. He's only 14 (for about another month), so this should be pretty quick.
Jaden of course debuted alongside his dad in the 2006 film The Pursuit of Happyness, which I actually thought was great. I don't have a strong memory of Jaden's performance in the film, but I suspect he seemed pretty natural -- a chip off the old block, as they say. It goes without saying that Jaden would not have appeared in this film without Will ... yet I just said it anyway.
His next feature was two years later in 2008, the awful remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still. And already, at not yet 10 years old, Jaden blows my theory out of the water. IMDB does not show Will Smith's name anywhere on this movie. Surely he worked his magic behind the scenes, but he wasn't so involved with the movie that he got a producer credit or anything.
Not the case for Jaden's next movie, which came out at another (parentally responsible) two-year interval: The Karate Kid in 2010. This movie probably makes the best case for Jaden being a true breakout star able to exist on his own merits, but I'll have to take other people's word for it because I still haven't seen it. And daddy definitely helped here: Both Will and Jada Pinkett Smith are credited as producers.
That brings us to After Earth, which reteams the buddy comedy duo from The Pursuit of Happyness. (That's a joke.)
Jaden got such an early start that it only feels like he's been around forever. At not even 15, Jaden probably isn't feeling desperate to get out of his father's shadow just yet. Though if I were him, I'd probably think twice about co-starring with his father again, at least not until he's in his 20s and the elder Smith is trying to make his first comeback. Time for this baby bird to spread his wings and fly.
Then and only then will we decide if this baby bird can carry his own billboard, let alone his own movie.
Of course, the elephant in the room about After Earth has nothing to do with either of the Smiths. The elephant is that After Earth is M. Night Shyamalan's latest attempt to reclaim the creative glory that has eluded him for something like six movies now. I'd say it was his last chance, but that's what I said when he made The Last Airbender, which ended up being one of his biggest flops. Yet here he is again, even though studios have long since stopped using his name to help market his movies.
So maybe Jaden catches a break here. If his movie stinks, maybe it won't be any kind of commentary on his star power after all.