|Available at Amazon.com|
How do you make a group of people who are borderline likable into characters we can root for? Cast good actors and let them have fun with the roles. That’s the inherent power of Smart People, a film loaded with a stellar cast and a quirky plot.
Dennis Quaid stars as Lawrence Wetherhold, a caustic college professor of literature at Carnegie Mellon, who has a series of shenanigans that cause him to go to the E.R after a seizure. A beautiful doctor Janet (Sarah Jessica Parker) treats him for it, and it causes his driver’s license to be pulled. His slacker brother Chuck (Thomas Hayden Church) volunteers to drive him around at the behest of his feisty, academic-oriented daughter Vanessa (Ellen Page).
And the film is driven by a group of skilled actors running with characters they’re best suited for rather than being cast purely for name value. Quaid is having a glorious time being a curmudgeonly older man and Hayden Church plays off it well, making us feel like they are adopted brothers with ease. Page may be better known for Juno at this point, but this is on par with that performance in terms of developing a quality character. Parker even gets into the mix well, bringing out a strong performance in the middle of all of the mess.
The film’s problem is that there’s no real solid introduction to it all. The characters are interesting and the film lets us inhabit their world in a weird way, but we’re dropped right in near the end of what should be a first act. The characters don’t get developed until later on, leaving us knowing the actors and not the characters in the beginning.
It takes a while for us to get involved in the story, ruining a lot of its effectiveness early on. With a solid introduction, it’s one of the better films of the year. As is, it stands as a solid but unspectacular film.
Presented in a Dolby Digital surround a widescreen format, the film has a strong audio/visual presentation. It’s an odd film with lots of unique visuals and they come through wonderfully.
Sneak Peeks for the DVD releases of The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, the first seasons of Private Practice and Samantha Who?, the theatrical release of Blindness and a generic promo for Miramax/Paramount Vintage.
The Smartest People is a fairly in-depth look at the film’s characters and why each person was cast for their role. Page was cast, and the film was shot, before her star-making turn in Juno which makes the character all the more interesting because Vanessa is sort of a mirror of Juno MacGuff. She’s nobody’s friend but the one everyone thinks will succeed, the kind of girl destined for success as opposed to destined to “do her own thing.” Its an interesting commentary as they talk about the characters with some depth, elevating it a bit beyond the usual EPK piece.
There are some Deleted scenes that don’t shed much light back into the film. Not so smart is a gag reel.
The film’s debut at Sundance is chronicled in Smart People at Sundance.
There’s also a Commentary Track with Murro and the film’s writer, Mark Jude Poirier
Sometimes it’s nice to see quality actors let loose on the screen to weave a story of quirky people. Smart People is that story. It isn’t anything to rush out and see, but worthy of a rental on a night in.
Miramax presents Smart People . Directed by Noam Murro. Written by Mark Poirier. Starring Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Thomas Hayden Church, Ellen Page. Running time: 93 minutes. Rated R. Released on DVD: August 12, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.