Smart People

Rated R

Directed by Noam Murro

Starring Dennis Quaid, Thomas Haden Church, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ellen Page and  Camille Mana

Heidi’s Illustrious Rating: 2.5

Word of Warning:  Some drugs, some sex and some rock and roll  (just kidding, unfortunately, there’s no rock and roll)  

I intended to  write my review of Smart People  right away, but  it didn’t  inspire me and as time past, the less I could remember about the movie (which only lends credence to  my later opinions regarding the unremarkable nature of this movie). There is fine acting and  a nice folksy coffee-shop style soundtrack. However, the story in Smart People has been told in a variety of ways and though this particular version had some unique qualities, those  traits didn’t manage to carry the movie into the realm of memorable or  Academy Award worthy.

Smart People is  the story of  a self-absorbed teenager named Vanessa, (Ellen Page, Juno 2007) who  lives with her  equally self-absorbed father, Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid) –  both  refuse to face or deal with the death of their mother/wife. They live an egocentric life that the theater audience is forced to live along with them. Lawrence Wetherhold is a sad and socially inept Professor of English who sincerely believes he is much smarter than most people in the world. Most of his  students hate him, as well as his co-workers. Only his daughter, who believes she is smarter than most people in the world,  adores him.  The character of Vanessa is a  virtual resurrection of the precocious character of Juno, for which Page received an Oscar nomination  in the film  Juno (2007).  Unless Page can break away from this role, I am doubtful she will receive a future  academy nomination.    

Thomas Haden Church adds some comedy relief as Chuck Wetherhold, Lawrence’s adopted brother. Chuck  is the polar opposite of Lawrence;  he  lacks direction in life, as well as  a house, a car and a job.  Chuck moves in with the family to act as a driver for Lawrence who  suffered a fall and associated seizure  that resulted in the revoking of his driver’s license for six months. Lawrence resents Chuck’s presence in the house and  patronizingly refers to  him as his  “adopted brother.” Vanessa has confused feelings about her fun-loving uncle who introduces her to a very different lifestyle than the one she is use to (a lifestyle involving drugs and alcohol instead of incessant studying).

The family unit is rattled again when Lawrence develops an unexpected interest in the emergency room doctor who treated him after his fall (Sarah Jessica Parker). The character of the doctor-love-interest isn’t especially likable. Maybe it is just me, but  she wasn’t the kind of person I  would want to spend any time with (like most of the characters in Smart People).  

Smart People would be better suited with the name Sad People. In recent years it has been a trend to portray unhappy people in what are called dark comedies and many of these films were good (including Sideways, the film that gave Merlot a bad name and snagged Thomas Hadan Church and Academy Award nomination). There are moments of witticism in Smart People, but the rest is unoriginal and the film falls into the over-crowded category of dull and forgettable.

Website Comments

  1. Christian Toto

    It’s so easy to trot out a parade of ‘sad people’ in indie films, but it takes talent to make a movie that takes sad people/situations and brings life to them. Like “Sideways.” Like “The Savages.”

    I walked out of “Smart People” thinking it was inert. Some reviews are shorter than others … that one word did it for me.

  2. zippyfish

    I pretty much agree with your review. A very wishy-washy film. For a little while it made me think that it wasn’t going to be full of cliches, but then I realised it was just ignoring all the potentially interesting bits in its characters and plot. I especially agreee that Janet was most unlikeable. When is Sarah Jessica Parker just going to accept that the best role for her would be as a witch?

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