Widowed and unhappy English professor Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid), has alienated his son James (Ashton Holmes) and turned his daughter Vanessa (Ellen Page) into an overachieving, friendless teen. He falls for Janet (Sarah Jessica Parker), one of his former students, while at the same time his ne'er-do-well adopted brother Chuck (Thomas Haden Church) shows up at his door unexpectedly, triggering a series of crises.
Review by Louise Keller:
What is it like being stupid? Ellen Page's smart teen Vanessa asks three bimbos at the local night club. The answer is spelt out in this story about a super-bright dysfunctional family who are too dumb to work out how to make their lives work. While the film lacks the satirical bite to make the dialogue zing with truths, getting to know the central characters is a pleasant enough diversion.
Everything revolves around Dennis Quaid's pompous windbag professor Lawrence who seems to wallow in having a bad time of it professionally and personally. Quaid plays down and out with gusto, but it's not always possible to believe that his character is as bright and intelligent as the script demands. 'There's a lot you don't know,' his son James (Ashton Holmes) observes, and it's ironic that Lawrence's not so bright adopted brother Chuck (Thomas Haden Church in good form) is more switched on to the pursuit of happiness than his super-bright relations. First time screen writer Mark Poirier's concept has legs, but neither of the two key relationships gel. There are no sparks between Quaid's professor and Sarah Jessica Parker's physician Janet; it's hard to understand the attraction. The relationship between Church's pot-smoking, lazabout Chuck and Page's 17 year old 'academic robot' is simply not believable.
The resolutions are all rather simplistic in this watershed story; if only life's problems were so easily resolved.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The first problem with Smart People is that we are told not shown how widower Lawrence (Dennis Quiad) has affected his children to be alienated and/or distanced from life and her emotions. We are told these things by other characters like his adopted brother Chuck (Thomas Hayden Church). And since this is an important element of the screenplay, the effect is diluted.
The second major problem is the irritatingly doleful and repetitious guitar-accompanied songs that Nuno Bellerscont is allowed to write and perform, dragging the mood into the sloppy domain of sentimentality, which requires me to show restraint to avoid running out.
While the cast is excellent, the characters are not. They feel forced and manufactured to varying degrees.
But the screenplay has virtues, too, including some great dialogue; it's just not directed well enough to make the most of it. Ellen Page seems to be practicing for her role as Juno, and while it's entertaining and spicy, it isn't fresh. Still, her relationship with half uncle Chuck is perhaps the film's only real asset. They work well together in a darkly ironic way.
Dennis Quiad makes heavy weather of his college professor with a personality problem, and Sarah Jessica Parker is given a badly underwritten character. I kept looking at my watch as I abandoned hope of caring for these characters and their fate. Quaid and Jessica Parker do not set the screen on fire and the plodding pace keeps us impatient for some development. When it comes, it's a let-down.
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SMART PEOPLE (M)
CAST: Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Thomas Haden Church, Ellen Page, Ashton Holmes, Christine Lahti, Camille Mana, David Denman
PRODUCER: Michael Costigan, Bridget Johnson, Michael London, Bruna Papandrea
DIRECTOR: Noam Murro
SCRIPT: Mark Poirier
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Toby Irwin
EDITOR: Robert Frazen
MUSIC: Aaron Zigman
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Patti Podesta
RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 24, 2008