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Review of “Smart People” (2008) 95min

April 12th, 2008 by Maxim · No Comments · 6,871 Views

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Miramax Films\' Smart People (2008) poster“Smart People” is a comedy and drama based on novel by Mark Poirier and directed by Noam Murro, an award winning director [of commercials]. Correct me if I’m wrong, but “Smart People” appears to be the first feature film he directed. I went to the theater with very low hopes. This movies was made at the same time as Juno, and, thanks to the success of latter more people will see and enjoy the former.

The plot: A middle-aged widowed disgruntled literature professor Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid) lives with his teenage children, daughter Vanessa (Ellen Page – Juno) and son James (Ashton Holmes – Raising Hell, a Cold Case episode, a Ghost Whisperer episode, a few Boston Legal episodes, Peaceful Warrior). He is quite self-absorbed, arrogant, doesn’t care about other people’s opinions, and quite oblivious even about lives of his own children. His teaching method was described by one of the students: “Doctor Wetherhold is very knowledgeable and smart. Unfortunately he barked the course of literature at us…”. Vanessa is a copy of him: smart and witty, but lonely and miserable. James is a regular teenager in college. He doesn’t like to be at home. The only one who helps to discharge the tension at home and misery in their lives is Lawrence’s adopted brother, Chuck (Thomas Haden Church) – a sloppy unemployed middle-aged child who tries to make a living by switching from one minimum-pay job to another and definitely has nothing good to teach the children. But when James hits his head and suffers a seizure, he meets an ER doctor Janet Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker) and eventually realizes that even the smartest people have a lot to learn from his brother he loves to hate, his children, his students and the woman he met.

Thomas Haden Church and Ellen Page in Miramax Films\' Smart People - 2008The good: The role of disgruntled professor was perfect for Dennis Quaid. His character had a lot of similarities with Paul Giamatti’s Miles: a frustrated disappointed intellectual, who, just like Miles, is unable to publish his book and is dealing with rejection quite badly – it just makes him angry at the world and he alternates between feeling misunderstood by the entire world and depression. Ellen Page was awesome again – it was a joy to watch her in Juno and she’d done a great job in this movie too. Her character is a copy of her father – her ambition is to get a perfect SAT and to get accepted to Stanford (not a bad ambition, by the way). She had most of the funniest lines and Ann Coulter-like observations. Thomas Haden Church for the most part played the same role as he did in Sideways: a teenager trapped in the middle-aged man’s body. Through his goofiness he, ironically, brings normalcy into the lives of his brother and niece. His performance was great, but not exactly refreshing. Dialogs were great. Musical score was simple and somewhat similar to Juno’s: a small string group with guitar and probably violin and cello.

The bad: I did not like Sarah Jessica Parker. She didn’t seem to be interested in this role, originally rejected by Rachel Weisz. Why did she like that pot-bellied widowed guy? Sequence where Janet plays Scrubble with Lawrence is idiotic – is that how real intellectuals spend their time? And c’mon, these people are not that smart…

The summary: although this film has a lot of problems, it is very enjoyable. ALMOST as good as Juno. The auditorium was less then half full because at the warm night like that it seemed like not a good night for movies and also most of people were lining up for the “Prom Night”. However the audience was very satisfied (judging by a long and loud round of applause) and didn’t want to leave even during final credits. The audience were mostly middle-aged people.

Memorable quotes:

“So tell me, how does it feel to be dumb?” – “It’s like having no friends and sit alone at the lunch table”.
“These children haven’t been properly parented in many years. They’re practically feral. That’s why I was brought in.”
“Our marketing team loved your book. We edited the first two thirds of it… You never had a professional editor, do you?… Anyway, we think that the book is great: NPR will love to hate it and before you know it you will be explaining yourself on Charlie Rose!”

Cast: Lawrence Wetherhold – Dennis Quaid | Janet Hartigan – Sarah Jessica Parker | Chuck Wetherhold – Thomas Haden Church | Vanessa Wetherhold – Ellen Page | James Wetherhold – Ashton Holmes
Credits: Miramax Films | Director – Noam Murro | Writer (novel and script) – Mark Poirier | Producers: Omar Amanat, Steffen Aumueller, Bill Block, Claus Clausen, Michael Costigan, Marina Grasic, Bridget Johnson, Michael London, Kenneth Orkin, Bruna Papandrea, Jennifer Roth, Edward Rugoff, Glenn M. Stewart, John Woldenberg | Cinematography – Toby Irwin | Art Direction – Ron Mason

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Tags: Comedy · Drama · Romance

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