April 14, 2008
Review - " Smart People " (in Theaters) - By Ken Ellis
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"Smart People" is the story of a truly dysfunctional family set against the cheery disposition of Pittsburgh in the fall (grey)
and an Ivy League university (brown). Kinda warms the very cockles of your heart right there, doesn't it? If this isn't
depressing enough, try the main character, English lit professor and widower Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid). Here
Quaid plays against type, something he doesn't do often and for good reason - he's not that good at it. His Wetherhold
comes across as a pompous, two-dimensional character of a college professor, similar to any of the 'professor' characters
in the 1931 Marx Brothers film "Horsefeathers". What Quaid needs is more Groucho, less central casting. Sarah Jessica
Parker offers little or no help as Janet, the professor's love interest. There is virtually no chemistry whatsoever between the
two and together they give the audience no reason to care about these two unlikable people. What the audience is given a
reason to care about are the two characters who nearly steal the film: Ellen Page as Wetherhold's clone-like daughter
Vanessa and Thomas Haden Church as his freeloader brother Chuck. Page brings the depth and dimension to her
character that Quaid seems incapable of doing, even though the two are very much alike. Church is able to take the dime
store one liners in this mediocre script and make it funny. It is because of their performances that I can at least recommend
watching this on DVD as they are easily the best part of this film.
The rest of the cast is capable, but not outstanding. The direction also breaks no new ground, but the biggest problem this
film seems to have is the story itself. At times, the story seems so segmented you might feel as though you're watching
episodic television. Is this the episode where the grumpy professor meets and dates the doctor? Oh, wait, now we're up to
the episode where the freeloader uncle gets the over-achieving daughter to let her hair down for a bit. And finally, with the
screenplay clock ticking, the self-absorbed, pompous 'hero' of the film finds salvation by just being a regular nice guy in the
last twenty minutes of the film. Nice and tidy, even if the motivation is not really all there.
I'd give this one a 5.8.
A brief commentary on "Smart People"
If there were to be a new category for one of the
various entertainment awards (not the Deltas,
they're already perfect the way they are….until we
decide otherwise), perhaps the film "Smart People"
could suggest one: Most Disappointing Film. I had
high hopes for this film, not only after seeing the
somewhat witty trailer, but also in the content of its
cast, which is full of quality performers. But what I
hope for and what actually occurs is all too often a