Published Apr 10, 2008The world of Smart People is simple: intelligence is defined by profession; cleverness is a virtue; and even the most misanthropic curmudgeon is capable of change. Its a pleasant world, free of complex thought and realistic human behaviour, which is actually quite an enjoyable place to visit for an hour-and-a-half.
Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid) is a widowed English professor whose latest writings have been turned down by publishers. His son James (Ashton Holmes) attends the school that Lawrence teaches at but scarcely speaks to his father, feeling little connection. On the other hand, his daughter Vanessa (Ellen Page) emulates her fathers moral codes as a young Republican who values success over relationships.
After suffering a seizure, Lawrence is told that he will be unable to drive for six months by ex-student/ER-chief Janet (Sarah Jessica Parker), leaving his adopted brother Chuck (Thomas Haden Church), a pot smoking slacker, to act as his personal chauffer.
While Smart People is a clever and engaging familial dysfunction seriocomedy, it has some issues with character transition. The characters themselves are relatively well sketched, with appropriate idiosyncrasies and vernacular but in an effort to convey didactics, they are often forced to make decisions that conflict with their natural trajectory.
Unsurprisingly, performances by all the lead thesps are strong. Sarah Jessica Parker delivers intellectual dialogue with an understated zest that one wouldnt expect from her; she keeps her emotions beneath the surface while exuding a quiet confidence. Quaid and Church are both solid throughout, crafting their characters with effect. The weakest of the four is Ellen Page, not necessarily due to inability but more because of a misreading of her character. Vanessa is drawn as a determined, rigid young Republican, and Page simply gives her too much emotional intelligence to convincingly justify her actions.
As well, director Noam Munro has a commercially viable maturity to his vision, which satisfies mainstream expectations while allowing his actors enough breathing room to perform.
Smart People is one of the best releases of 2008 so far, delivering dark comedy somewhere between the acerbic The Squid and the Whale and the quirky Little Miss Sunshine. Its just a shame that more care wasnt taken in guiding these People along their paths. (Buena Vista)