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Smart People
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by Jason Whyte

"They aren't THAT smart..."
2 stars

If nothing else, I left the screening of “Smart People” this weekend thinking that I had seen a remake of “Wonder Boys”, an infinitely better drama about a college teacher and the impact his life has over everyone around him. “Smart People” has a somewhat intriguing concept but it is too reminiscent of Curtis Hanson’s great 2000 film.

Dennis Quaid is questionably cast as Lawrence, a professor who is never happy. He is disliked by his students (he can’t remember who anyone is, let alone their names) and especially his family, which in turn make them miserable. One night, he has an accident that leaves him injured (not critically) enough that he is unable to drive to and from his classes. Enter his step-brother Chuck (Thomas Haden Church) who is without a job and can offer to drive Lawrence around.

Also coming into Lawrence’s life is a doctor named Janet (Sarah Jessica Parker) who used to be a student of Lawrence’s and decides to start dating him. This, we hope, will bring Lawrence out of his shell and reconnect with his family and his work. There’s an amusing dinner scene where Lawrence, clearly a bit anti-social, talks for 45 minutes without letting Janet speak whatsoever. When they date again, you can tell he’s trying his best to keep his mouth shut and let her strike up conversation.

In another bit of strange casting, Ellen Page plays Lawrence’s daughter Vanessa who pretty much plays a character four years older than Juno MacGuff (and oddly enough, she filmed this movie prior to “Juno”) and is as snarky and sarcastic as they come. While Page’s performance is excellent, her character is a New Republican, which makes no sense to me. Why cast a girl from Halifax to play a character so negative – yet so smart – and give her the wrong political side?

We then follow Vanessa as she becomes friends with Chuck. Chuck is the kind of wild spirit that wants to get Vanessa out and party it up, as it seems that she stays home far too often. The film then takes the path that “Juno” wisely avoided with the Jason Bateman character, and in this case younger appears to be attracted to older. This one sequence casts a pall over the rest of the movie, mostly because I wasn’t convinced that Vanessa would have really done this. It smacks of a screenwriter who is out of ideas trying to shock us.

I mentioned Dennis Quaid’s performance as “questionable”, simply because he’s not built for these kinds of roles. He does what he can and he delivers some really funny dialogue, yet his famous smile never creeps through, not even at the end. I can see Paul Giamatti or Jeff Daniels eating through these roles, and someone like Quaid is a bit too polite for what the Lawrence character really demands.

If I sound a bit too negative on “Smart People”, it was that I was expecting just a little bit more from director Noam Murro, who makes his feature debut here (he has mostly directed commercials). The film’s pacing is somewhat slow, and it doesn’t help that we’ve seen this picture done countless times before. While I liked the majority of the performances and some of the one-liners made me chuckle, the film seems a bit too reminiscent of “Wonder Boys” and the works of Noah Baumbach that I wish it would have taken its topic in a new direction.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16929&reviewer=350
originally posted: 08/24/08 02:46:41
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2008 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/19/08 Colleen H an incredible yawn! what a big fat disappointment. 1 stars
8/27/08 Jennifer R entirely forgettable and unengaging. witty dialogue often falls flat. 2 stars
8/24/08 Jack Somemrsby More or less a subpar "Wonder Boys" with caricatures rather than characters. 2 stars
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  11-Apr-2008 (R)
  DVD: 12-Aug-2008



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