Ellen Page is effective, but script misses mark|
by Rick Bentley, published on April 10, 2008
"Smart People" is a smart movie, but it's not smart enough. So much effort was put into the snappy dialogue that no one noticed the story falls apart in the final 20 minutes.
The big brain of the film is Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid). He's one of those college professors who is so in love with his own voice he does not realize it has a sleep-inducing effect on students. He's so disconnected with his classes, he cannot identify a single student by name.
A medical condition leaves Wetherhold in need of help from his adopted, and less cerebral, brother, Chuck (Thomas Haden Church). This all proves to be an annoyance for Wetherhold's overachiever daughter, Vanessa (Ellen Page). Either she is in deep need of therapy for her obsession with pleasing her father or she's just a social jerk.
This new family dynamic unfolds like a French farce. Misunderstandings, thwarted love and tons of too-hip-for-the-room patter move the plot to its eventual demise.
That end begins to unfold when one of Wetherhold's former students, Janet Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker), finally reveals she once had a crush on the socially stupid teacher. Here's a bonus: Hartigan's got a destructive personality. That throws one more log on the emotional fire.
Mark Poirier's script is a series of moments where the characters collide, talk in smug tones and then drift away into their own self-absorption. The witty banter comes across as being far more important than any connections by the players.
And that disconnect drifts off the screen to engulf the viewer.
Quaid does his best in playing the socially inept professor. But there are occasions when he seems like he is channeling his role in "Great Balls of Fire." Church does little with what has become a safe role for him: a character who is smarter than he looks.
Page is the most effective. Her role is the opposite of her street-smart lead in "Juno," but Page brings the same power to the screen. It is amazing that an actress so young can command so much attention.
But her performance is not enough to distract from the writing. Poirier starts strong but ends on a sour note with a hackneyed plot twist.
Director Noam Murro doesn't help as he leaps over what should have been some big moments late in the film.
Had Murro been a little smarter with his direction and Poirier been a little smarter with his writing, "Smart People" would have been an intelligent examination of the emotional pitfalls of life.