Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Quickie: Smart People

Smart People

Rated R
1 hour, 35 minutes

Matinee ($$$) <
> Second-Run Seats ($$)

I'm not so good at judging the merits of these types of films. You know the group I'm talking about:The Squid and the Whale, Winter Passing, The Savages, Rocket Science, Tadpole... films that are adept at adorning their actors in dingy, average-Joe surroundings and, often, less-than-average attire (especially Ellen Page in this instance). Once the ambiance is established the director and writers soak the edges of the film in dysfunctionality. When the right balance of snarkiness and dirtiness is attained the results can be phenomenal, a la The Squid and the Whale. Other times, a movie will backfire into a dismal, depressing affair, despite its undeniable strengths, a la The Savages. Smart People lands somewhere in the mid- to low-range of my ad hoc spectrum.

Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid, Frequency) is a self-absorbed, contrary English professor at Carnegie-Mellon raising Vanessa (Ellen Page, Juno),a high-strung, haughty high school senior. After a towing debacle, Lawrence is restricted from driving by E.R. doctor Janet Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker, The Family Stone), an emotionally stunted woman who is intrigued by this coarse man. Enter the chauffeur, Chuck (Thomas Haden Church, Sideways), Lawrence's adopted brother: a grifter and all-around loser yet generally decent guy - at least, compared to his family.

Although Lawrence's faults are explained, it doesn't make him any more sympathetic. Janet's flaws are vaguely mentioned, and many of her motivations must be taken on faith. I won't even begin on the trainwreck that's Vanessa. Chuck is simple to understand as he thrives through his shortcomings. (Haden Church must also thrive in the buff because he leaves the back door of his union suit open on more than one occasion. I wonder if I were to re-watch Spider-Man 3, I might find a slip of Church crack amid the swirling sands.)

Smart People
feels a little too smart for its own good. There is some humor but little that wasn't spoiled by the trailer. The characers' gloomy existences just dragged me down.

P.S.- No digs at you, Quaid; you're still the man! You too, Lowell!
P.P.S.- Sorry they wasted a great potential role for you, Ashton Holmes. Better luck next time.

Large Association of Movie Blogs


  1. Not a bad flick. I like how Ellen is a sad reflection of Quaid's character. Plus the jokes were funny also. I wrote down all of the words (Eft)they were throwing back and forth and looked them up. Some of them will appear in my Word of the Week series.

  2. I didn't enjoy this as much as I wanted to. My wife did, but she enjoys dialog driven films more than I do.

    I guess I wanted Quaid to be more redeemable, but I guess a tiger can only change his stripes one at a time which is more realistic than the Hollywood 360 that most often occurs.

    I'm looking forward to seeing which words you picked up from this.