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» MovieFrreak Review - Smart People

Familiar People Passably Entertaining
by Sara Michelle Fetters, published on April 11, 2008

Brilliant writer and esteemed professor Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid) isn’t exactly beloved by his students. In fact, he’s positively reviled, his monumentally self-possessed aura of superiority not endearing him with any of the college kids he teaches. Still, he can solve just about any literary problem there is (if someone actually has the guts to put one to him), and if you ever needed a person to put you in your place and tell you exactly the way it is then this guys is definitely the man you’re looking for.

Granted, where it comes to his family and social life Lawrence is just as clueless as the next guy. His son James (Ashton Holmes) is exasperated and annoyed every time dad walks into his dorm room, aspiring young Republican daughter Vanessa (Ellen Page) is frustratingly following in his own socially off-putting footsteps and ne’er-do-well adopted brother Chuck (Thomas Haden Church) is still lackadaisically traveling through life waiting for handouts which inexplicably still come.

Things go especially crazy after an unexpected trip to the hospital reunites the professor with a former student, Dr. Janet Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker). The man who knows the words for everything and anything suddenly discovers himself to be completely inarticulate where it comes to the woman. Before he knows it, they’re entering into relationship testing both their limits and throws the entire Wetherhold household into chaos. But that’s okay, these are smart people, and if anyone can weather the storm it just has to be them – even if they might end up hating one another trying to do it.

Smart People is the latest quirky Independent comedy to emerge from the Sundance Film Festival, this one making its appearance at the Park City event just this past January. Acclaimed novelist Mark Poirier’s debut screenplay is filled with the quirky humor and lacerating verbal witticisms we’ve come to associate with past sensations like Little Miss Sunshine, Spanking the Monkey and Garden State. It also features a collection of absurdly brainy eccentrics like The Squid and the Whale and Sex, Lies and Videotape.

In other words, for all that is great about Smart People (and there is plenty that is, including the best performance Dennis Quaid has given in over a decade) this is still a movie we have seen countless times before. There isn’t a lot here that is going to surprise anyone, not very much which will feel either fresh or new. It is almost as if Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach and David O. Russell combined to crib from all their past works, mixing in a little bit of Diablo Cody and Michael Arndt for good measure all of it ending it with the whole thing playing like a Sundance highlight real and not like a fully imagined motion picture.

And yet, it’s hard to hold much of a grudge against freshman director Noam Murro’s comedy. The film movies exceedingly well, the 90-plus minute running time flying by in the proverbial blink of an eye. Also, for all that is familiar about Poirier’s script the lines he’s crafted for this talented ensemble to say are devilishly delightful. In fact, dual Oscar nominees Page and Church eat up the writer’s words like they were gourmet cuisine, tearing into one another with such delectable relish you’d think the both of them had been doing it all their lives.

So I enjoyed the film. Maybe not as much as I would have liked to (or to the heights the filmmakers obviously hoped for), but that tends to happen from time to time and there really isn’t any more to say about it. In the world of Smart People, this might be construed as a copout. In the world of film criticism, it’s construed as passable entertainment. Thankfully, it’s my world, and that latter statement is the one I’m more than happy to hold on to with both hands.

Film Rating: 2,5 out of 4

Source: www.moviefreak.com

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