From Fresh Prince to fumbling mess, Will Smith’s career needs a pause button
It needs to be said: Will Smith, once a totem of cool, a man with a ’90s wardrobe to make a 2019 art-school hypebeast salivate, is an embarrassing dad. Not just an embarrassing dad; the ultimate embarrassing dad.
Back in the ’90s, Will Smith’s Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air was the epitome of teatime telly cool. A decent enough hip hop career behind him (‘Summertime’ is still a banger), Smith was cheeky, strong-minded, super-positive and – when the time called – in touch with his emotions.
The show launched him as a major star. Leads in 1996’s Independence Day and 1997’s Men In Black made him the African-American outsider who broke through Hollywood’s traditionally white vision of masculinity. Will Smith was unstoppable through the turn of the century: Hitch, I Am Legend, weepy double-bill The Pursuit Of Happyness and Seven Pounds and super-anti-hero flick Hancock presented him as a versatile actor with the wit and wisdom to fuck with the greats – an icon for the new ‘Willennium’. A fun stat for the nerds out there – Will Smith is the only actor to have eight US number one movies in a row, which also grossed more than $100 million at the box office.
But at the turn of the last decade, things went off the rails. Pushing his kids to front-and-centre, not a care in the world for how the pressures of fame might affect them – or, indeed, his reputation as Mr. Cool – his appearance alongside son Jaden in the pointless Karate Kid remake was his first real mis-step.
From there, it’s been a non-stop plummet, with poor rom-com after poor-rom com tarnishing his reputation as a filmic Midas. The rotten cherry on top? 2017’s Bright, a movie dubbed the “worst of 2017”. And now, he’s gone the full Eiffel 65 in the trailer for the Aladdin remake, which looks to answer the question of what it would look like if you staged a provincial British pantomime in Las Vegas.
Blue Will is the laughing stock of Twitter – “I’ll never sleep again and it’s all Will Smith’s fault,” wrote one user; “All three of my wishes would be to unsee the Will Smith genie,” said another, adding: “He looks like a dildo and he knows it.”
Smith has hardly helped his reputation outside of the silver screen, either. Over the past few years he’s wheeled out the Fresh Prince theme on Ellen and Graham Norton (the latter with Jaden in tow), ‘Summertime’ and ‘Gettin’ Jiggy With It’ on Letterman, and ‘Summertime’ – again– on Colbert. Each not-so-spontaneous burst into song feels like desperate attempt to remind us of his former relevancy. It’s the closest you’ll ever see a former music and movie mastermind veer to pure David Brent-ism.
Last year, he released a parody of his own son’s ‘Icon’ music video – an act of pure daddery that somehow managed to embarrass both parties in equal measure. “It is a Delicious Gift to a Parent to Admire his children. Keep Doin’ You!” he captioned it, bizarrely. On another occasion, when Will took to Facebook to share a photo of him chopping off Jaden’s dreadlocks, his long-suffering son’s expression said it all:
It’s a fall from grace that look set to plumb dreadful new depths. There’s a Bright sequel on the way, for one. Bad Boys 3 is set for next year too, in case you wanted to see a 50-year-old man try to wheeze his way through a streetwise buddy cop movie. Oh, and he’s coming back to the world of rap, apparently, a 2018 teaser video finding the father-of-two spitting bars about “20 years of swag” and marrying Rihanna, like your weird uncle after one too many Christmas Day sherries. When he raps about “divorce rumours”, it’s enough to ruin the festive period entirely.
If you want an insight into how this newfound position as the World’s Most Embarrassing Dad has affected his kids… well, just look at Jaden Smith’s Twitter presence.
It’s painful to watch unfold – a man who once epitomised teenage sass becoming nothing more than a cringe-inducing caricature, without a memorable film to his name in at least a decade. Will Smith, more than perhaps anyone else in Hollywood right now, is in desperate need of a new agent. Until then, he’ll remain a constant reminder of the embarrassing dad archetype that’s waiting to ensnare any unsuspecting male. May God help us all, lads.