Smart People (2008)

DVD Cover (Miramax)
Comedy Drama, Family Drama, Romantic Comedy
Noam Murro Noam Murro
Dennis Quaid Dennis Quaid
Sarah Jessica Parker Sarah Jessica Parker
Thomas Haden Church Thomas Haden Church
Ellen Page Ellen Page
Ashton Holmes Ashton Holmes

6.2 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by bluemeanie
Added: April 16, 2008
There is nothing worse than a film that tries to be something and then fails. The latest trend these days in Hollywood seems to be the quirky comedy. The enormous success of "Juno" has only turned that trend into a more frequent visitor on the weekend box office charts. Wes Anderson pretty much tackled the sub-genre single-handedly for a while, but now he has a lot of company. Sundance and other prestigious film festivals across the United States and beyond are littered with quiet, quirky little independent dramedies that all want to desperately follow in the footsteps of recent examples such as "Little Miss Sunshine" and the above mentioned "Juno". Few actually succeed. The latest in this long line of motion pictures is "Smart People". What separates this film from the others is that it features a pedigree cast and that 'Sundance push' that all films desire, but few obtain. After watching the picture, I have mixed feelings. There's a lot I admired about the film and there's a lot I absolutely loved, but the film falls victim to that problem of seeming like it's trying too hard to be something that it just isn't. "Smart People" is a smart movie, but maybe it's just too smart.

The film stars Dennis Quaid as Professor Lawrence Wetherhold, one of the most pompous and egotistical intellectuals you're ever likely to meet. His life seems to be one redundant, mundane thing after another. His wife has been dead for a while now, and he's the leader of his family, though he has zero ability to do that. His daughter, Vanessa (Ellen Page) is a genius and a Young Republican and can't stand the idea of her father doing anything that doesn't involve her. His son, James (Ashton Holmes) is in college but is subject to random visits from his father, who probably just doesn't have anything better to do. When Lawrence has a trauma induced seizure, he is told he cannot drive for six months. His adopted brother, Chuck (Thomas Haden Church) comes into the picture to drive him around, though he is less than reliable. While in the hospital for his injury, Lawrence meets Janet (Sarah Jessica Parker), a former student of his who was so turned off from literature by Lawrence that she switched majors and became a doctor. Janet reveals she always had a crush on Lawrence and the two begin a relationship. Most of the film deals with Lawrence as she tries to obtain some semblance of normality in his life, while seeming to avoid it at every turn. The film watches these characters as they mature and become individuals, not reliant on any other person. "Smart People" celebrates the quirkiness of its characters, and has fun doing it.

The real problems in the film come from the pacing and the music. The film moves along at a lackluster speed and never picks up much momentum. We love watching these characters and watching them interact with one another, but there are far too many shots of them doing nothing, either walking down the street, sitting in a chair or driving down the highway. And the original music is just irritating. It underscores almost the entire film and it's the same redundant theme over and over again. Smart people would listen to better music than that. Another problem with the film is that it doesn't make use of Christine Lahti. I know this might be a minor gripe, but Christine Lahti is an amazingly talented character actress and she is just wasted here in a role than an extra could have just as easily handled. And if there is one thing I hate it's the wasting of good talent. But, on the whole, these problems didn't ruin the film for me. They hampered my overall enjoyment of the picture, but the script and the performances are enough to compensate.

Now, to the performances. Dennis Quaid delivers the finest performance of his career, very much similar to Michael Douglas' performance in "Wonder Boys". Quaid embodies this character and turns a nasty cynic into a lovable character. Quaid has never been better and the role just suits every thing he can bring to a character and more. I would love to see him recognized come awards time. Also strong is Sarah Jessica Parker. I don't typically enjoy her in films, but I found her charming, sarcastic and a perfect foil to Quaid in this picture. Ellen Page, on the other hand, is starting to get a little tiring with the same old intellectual teen routine that she did in "Juno" and "Hard Candy" and every other film she does. I want to see something more. I need range. It's Thomas Haden Church, however, who steals the show as Quaid's adoptive brother, Chuck. Church gets all the best material and delivers on each and every line. His character is far more intelligent than everyone seems to think he is and Church plays that with perfection. It's the best thing he's done since "Sideways" and I think his performance here is even stronger than his performance in "Sideways". I have always conveyed my disappointment at the under-usage of Christine Lahti.

So, I am recommending "Smart People". It had flaws, but they were not so great as to take away from the rest of the picture, which was solid. If nothing else, see it for two outstanding performances from Dennis Quaid and Thomas Haden Church. I wish the filmmakers would have tried something different with the original score and maybe given Ellen Page a fresher character, but they didn't. My recommendations are Dennis Quaid for Best Actor and Thomas Haden Church for Best Supporting Actor and definitely Mark Poirier for Best Original Screenplay. "Smart People" is in limited wide release and did all right its opening weekend, so maybe that is a sign that "Juno" did pave the way for films like this to receive a wider commercial acceptance. I hope so. Five years ago, a film like "Smart People" would have been tossed around and swallowed into oblivion. Now, it gets the chance to find an audience and really excel. It deserves it. It's flawed, but smart.

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Kari Byron's Sex Cyborg #1: Kari Byron's Sex Cyborg - added 10/25/2008, 07:59 AM
Thomas Haden Church and Dennis Quaid were indeed great, but, for me, the flaws were too heavily aplenty. Like said, the music was a bother, the pacing was a bore, and Ellen Page's character was tiring, but I also found there to be very little chemistry and humor (although, the useless addition of Ashton Holmes' character was worth a good laugh in the end) in this skimpily plotted, failed dramedy.

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