Film review: "Smart People"
Published: Thursday, April 17, 2008 - 1:38am
Starring Dennis Quaid,
Sarah Jessica Parker, Ellen Page
Released: April 11, 2008
“SMART PEOPLE” is a movie about how stupid smart people can be. It's one of those movies where nothing happens besides a few little revelations about life and how much it sucks and no matter how smart you are, you and your life still suck.
Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid) is a widowed, pretentious jerk of an English professor who never bothers to learn his students' names and gives everyone C's or worse on every paper, who is also attempting to publish a boring book and become chair of the English department.
His daughter, Vanessa (Ellen Page), is a 17-year-old lonely, strange-dressing girl with no friends whose main goal in life is to get a perfect score on the SAT. Her older brother, James (Ashton Holmes), is actually a relatively normal college kid who writes poems. His only problem is that his father teaches at his college and is constantly unexpectedly barging into his dorm room.
Their perfectly cynical and depressing little life is complicated when Lawrence, in an odd, uncharacteristic move, decides to climb a fence to get his briefcase out of his car, which has been towed to the impound lot because he can't be bothered to park correctly. He then falls off the aforementioned fence and suffers a concussion, and, apparently, a trauma-induced seizure (though this is not shown in the film).
As a result, not only can he not drive for six months, but he also meets the attractive head of the ER, Janet Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker) who also happens to be a former student of his. They totally hit it off and fall in love right away.
Instead, he has no clue who she is, which upsets her for some reason, even though, 10 years ago, he gave her a C on her paper, and five minutes ago, he was unbelievably rude to her.
When Lawrence is finally released from the ER, he returns home to discover that his adopted, unsuccessful, unappealing jerk of a brother, Chuck (Thomas Haden Church), has moved in in order to drive him around.
Throughout the film, Janet and Lawrence are on again, off again. They sleep together, she leaves him, she comes back, he's stupid, she's angry, he's confused, she's stupid, they're both happy.
While you could say that this this rollercoaster is a rather realistic model of a real-life relationship, the reasons behind the stupidity and confusion and leaving and coming back aren't really ever explained. The changes come very suddenly, and, as a result, both Janet and Lawrence seem a little crazy.
It's hard to figure out why Janet is attracted to the guy in the first place, since he apparently has no social skills and spends their entire first date bragging about his extremely boring and pretentious-sounding book, titled “You Can't Read.”
After spending the night with Lawrence for the first time, Janet pretends to be called to the ER and forces him to leave. She seems to have been having a good time, but then she just suddenly isn't anymore. Then, after not returning his calls for a few days, she shows up at his house unannounced, and everything is perfectly fine again.
Meanwhile, Chuck has decided that Vanessa is not living her life correctly, and isn't having enough fun. So after getting her high, he takes her to a bar and gets her falling-down drunk.
If you know me at all, you'll understand that this was my least favorite part of the movie. It did, however, feature my favorite quote from a drunken Vanessa to some random girls who could be classmates or just some weird bar-goers.
- “What's it like to be stupid?”
“Kind of like sitting by yourself at lunch every day.”
“Oh man, that sucks then.”
I was attracted to “Smart People” by the fact that it features two of my favorite actors, Ellen Page and Dennis Quaid. It seemed like a fairly clever, interesting movie, and I'd been looking forward to seeing it for several weeks.
As it turns out, the film was like one of those meals at a restaurant that sounds super delicious and that you spend 45 minutes waiting on, but then once it finally arrives, is a little dry and just not as satisfying as you were just sure it was going to be.
I was disappointed. The whole movie just made me really uncomfortable. From the awkwardness and unwarranted freaking out between Lawrence and Janet to the weird relationship between Chuck and Vanessa, I was becoming unhappy as I watched this film progress from several unhappy people to a whole bunch of angry, unhappy people to a bunch of people who finally realized that they were angry and unhappy.
Lawrence realized that he'd been wasting his life away. Vanessa realized that her father and role model, and therefore she herself, was just a sad, sad person.
The film does have some bright spots. Occasionally, lines are funny, and most of the characters do realize how messed up they are at the end, in case you were afraid they weren't going to figure it out.
And if you feel like it ended really abruptly, keep watching for a couple more minutes. The ending credits are probably the best, most adorable part of the film, and you won't want to miss them.
The thing is, I hated every single character in this movie. That's not even an exaggeration. Every character is a really unappealing person, and that really takes away from my enjoyment of a movie when there's no one I can relate to.
Vanessa was probably the most disappointing character. For what she was, Page played her extremely well, but she was like no 17-year-old girl I've ever met, and, being one myself, I've met quite a few. Her obsession with the SAT was irritating, but slightly understandable. It was her gross obsession with her adopted uncle that bugged me the most. Her weird attraction to him completely grossed me out and made it hard to even try to like her for the rest of the movie.
Her wardrobe was also ridiculous. The costume designers apparently wanted every variation on the typical sweater vest that they could find, but they went a little overboard. Instead of a nerdy teenager, she looks like a little old woman with oddly good skin in her knee-length plaid skirts and huge sweaters. They tried just a little bit too hard.
That would probably be a good way to sum up the entire film: They tried just a little bit too hard.
They tried too hard to make it like real life. The characters tried too hard to keep their lives the crappy way they liked them. And they all tried too hard to find deep insight into the pits of despair they called their lives.
The idea of the film, or at least one of them, that intelligence isn't worth crap unless you've got the skills to succeed in other areas of life, is one that I wholeheartedly agree with, and always have. But the discomfort and sheer irritation that this movie caused me made it really hard for me to like it.
“SMART PEOPLE” AT A GLANCE
- Starring: Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ellen Page, Thomas Haden Church, Ashton Holmes
- Directed by: Noam Murro
- Written by: Mark Poirier
- Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
- Rated: R
- Runtime: 95 min.
- Release date: April 11, 2008
- Summary: Into the life of a widowed professor comes a new love and an unexpected visit from his adopted brother.