Smart People should avoid Smart People
Director: Noam Murro
Notable Cast: Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Thomas Haden Church, Ellen Page, Ashton Holmes, Christine Lathi
Smart People is an obvious attempt at making a movie seem like literature with an abundance of likeably dislikable characters. Strike one. Smart People is a derivative independent-style film full of eccentric characters. Strike two. Smart People stars Ellen Page and Thomas Haden Church as quirky loners struggling to fit into the real world. Strike three!
While the film is called out strictly on principle, at least it goes down swinging. But it should be noted that director Noam Murro’s failure to get on base comes in the cinematic equivalent of a game of slow-pitch softball. Naturally, that is what is most bothersome about Smart People in the first place: it is too much of a safe bet.
As independent comedy moves further into the mainstream and inevitably becomes more homogenized, audiences should get used to such inept efforts as Smart People. Nothing in the entire film is original in any way, but at least it doesn’t pretend to be. Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid) is a misanthropic widower professor and father of two bright children. Lawrence’s life is turned upside down when his directionless adopted brother Chuck (Thomas Hayden Church) comes to live with the family after Lawrence suffers a seizure and needs someone to chauffeur him for six months.
Chuck’s easygoing lifestyle begins to rub off on Lawrence’s uptight, overambitious, high school daughter Vanessa (Ellen Page). Vanessa, already a confused surrogate wife to her father, becomes enamored with Chuck as she welcomes the much needed attention he offers her in the wake of her father’s burgeoning relationship with his doctor, and former student, Janet (Sarah Jessica Parker).
Anyone with any previous knowledge of films such as this can guess where the story is headed from here, and while Page and Church give it their all it becomes increasingly apparent that they are above this material. Of course they are offered no help from scene-killer Parker and Quaid who plays an arrogant dickhead with a bit too much zeal. After the first half hour, Smart People puts viewers on the treadmill and hopes no one will notice that the same three conversations are being held over and over again. Actual self-centered, obstinate people show less resistance to change than this movie.
I almost feel guilty dressing down a movie that is so eager for praise and it seems downright blasphemous to damn critical darlings Page and Church, but Smart People wishes so much to be something else that it never takes the time to be itself. It would be easy to cite some of its obvious influences, but that is exactly what the filmmakers would want. It would give Smart People too much credit to mention it in the same conversation as its more ambitious peers.
Instead, it would be better to allow Smart People to be quickly forgotten. Hang on to your Sideways and your Juno and rest assured that Page and Church will always be considered for more worthy material. Keep your Parker as Carrie Bradshaw and savor her last hurrah this summer. But pity Quaid in his misguided effort to star in a high-caliber prestige piece. Not coincidentally, his unsympathetic professor derails any sort of opportunity the film had of being something more. These people may be smart, but this movie definitely is not.
FINAL RATING (ON A SCALE OF 1-5 BUCKETS):