April 12, 2008
Review - " Smart People " (in Theaters) - By Roland Hansen
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Directed By: Noam Murro
Written by: Mark Poirier
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Thomas Hayden Church, Ellen
If you go to “Smart People” expecting to see this years “Juno” you will be
sadly disappointed. “Smart People” is smart and funny. Not the laugh-out-loud
broad comedy of Judd Aptow but more the intellectual cerebral comedy of
Dennis Quaid plays Carnegie-Mellon English professor Lawrence
Wetherhold, a cranky know-it-all hated by his students, faculty and family
alike, who ends up in the care of a former student, Dr. Janet Hartigan (Sarah
Jessica Parker), after a dumb accident leaves him injured. Having not been
with a woman since his wife died years earlier, he decides to pursue Janet,
much to the annoyance of his overly ambitious 17-year-old Young Republican
daughter Vanessa, played by Ellen Page, who immediately dislikes the doctor.
Things are even more complicated since Larry's good-for-nothing adopted
brother Chuck (Thomas Haden Church) has decided to move in, making the
Wetherhold's already dysfunctional family life even worse.
Three of four lead performances were great (Sarah Jessica Parker's, seemed stilted and uneven), but Thomas Haden Church
and Ellen Page definitely stood out (and got the most laughs). Church's timing was dead on and Ellen's incredibly telling facial
expressions never cease to amaze. What she can say with just a smirk… Thomas Hayden Church and Ellen Page were great
together. They had such good chemistry. The scenes between the two of them were the best in the film. Ostensibly the movie
is about Professor Wetherhold but it was Church and Page that stole the film. When Uncle Chuck (Church) moves in with the
Wetherhold’s he forms a bond with his niece (Page). He helps her start to let her hair down and enjoy life. He talks her into
smoking pot with him and later, to celebrate her early acceptance at college, takes her to a bar where the 17 year old
proceeds to get roaring drunk. It is a sad commentary on Hollywood that the only way they can manage to show teens having
fun is with drugs and alcohol. This theme can be seen in just about every teen comedy. (American Pie, 10 Things I Hate About
You, Drive Me Crazy, Superbad)
The best and wittiest dialogue came in the few scenes with Vanessa
and Dr Hartigan. Especially good was the "fucking patients is against
the Hippocratic oath" line. This movie would have been much better
had their been more interplay between Sarah Jessica Parker’s and
“Smart People” is a departure from Dennis Quaid's typical role. He
usually plays the lovable rogue (The Right Stuff, Innerspace, The
Parent Trap) but this time he is an unlikable pompous asshole. Some
will find Dennis Quaid’s performance boring. Proffessor Wetherhold isn’t exciting, he doesn’t DO much of anything. However
he's supposed to be boring. He’s a pompous intellectual snob and Quaid performs this part brilliantly. Quaid spends almost the
entire film Shlumping around in frumpy wrinkled clothes, slightly slumped over with a miserable expression on his face.
Wetherhold is unhappy and he makes everyone around him unhappy from his students and colleagues to his family. As for
Dennis and Sarah Jessica Parker, their romance wasn’t really convincing, it lacked any kind of chemistry.
film and suggests that the professor and his family are able to
turn around and find some joy in their lives.
The pacing of the film was good it got to the plot quickly with not
much dilly-dallying or useless dialogue. Although the film strayed
from the plot towards the end, the final scenes pieced everything
together. Actually the closing credits vignettes closed out the
All around “Smart People” is a really enjoyable experience. This
film is definitely more geared towards an adult audience with
such intellectual, incredibly dry-witted characters. It connects
best with intelligent individuals and won't resonate well with those
looking for a typical Hollywood comedy, but if you're in the mood
for something smart, funny, and fulfilling, then Smart People it is.
Vanessa Wetherhold is a carbon copy of her dad. She is unhappy, friendless. Her only pursuits are intellectual/academia.
When her father comments that she is unhappy she states “You’re my role model …… and you’re not happy”. You can tell
that she's been the one taking care of the family and she's been neglected by her father who needs to come in terms of his
own selfishness. Many will view the part of Vanessa as a conservative, bitchier version of Juno and might conclude that Ms.
Page is only capable of the dry sarcasm that she delivers oh-so-well. Vanessa at first feels like someone you would dislike but
end up liking her. Its because she shows her insecurities especially when, in the bar scene, she asks: "How does it feel to be
stupid?" and is answered "...like being alone at lunch.." The look on her face says it all. It pretty much depicts the unhappiness
and loneliness that Ellen Page's character feels. This may not be one of Ellen's more memorable performances. However, it is
very good, not Juno or Hard Candy, but very good.
Although he got few scenes, Ashton Holmes as James was pretty good and seemingly the only "normal" character of the cast.
The sad melancholy musical score sets the tone of the film. From the opening scenes the music gives you a feeling of
loneliness. The Song at the end “Pursuit of Happiness” is in stark contrast to the melancholy feel throughout the rest of the