by Fletch, published on April 24, 2008 at 10:08 AM|
Smart People is a piece of cinema seemingly crafted by obtuse individuals. Despite featuring a strong screenplay by greenhorn writer Mark Poirier, the leadership by fellow neophyte director Noam Murro lacks imagination.
Dennis Quaid stars as a boorish Victorian English professor at Carnegie-Mellon University. We know he is an insolent soul because he parks his Euro sedan (a Snaab, if I recall) in two spaces. Apparently, his spouse expired some inordinate length of time ago, and he sees this as an opportunity to be cantankerous for his remaining days. Around the time of our introduction, his lazybones con man of an hermano (adopted, by the way) enters the picture, in need of some duckets and perhaps a domicile. Already cohabiting with Quaid's Lawrence Wetherhold is his conformist conservative adolescent daughter, played by Juno's Ellen Page. She is wholly independent, too intelligent for her own good, and altogether miserable, lacking popularity, gentleman callers, and an adequate home life. Thrown in for no good reason is Wetherhold's college pupil son, an undercooked role that feels neglected and whose only purpose is to advance the plot where necessary.
One of the times he warrants attention is in the commencement of the film, as Lawrence necessitates a place to be where he can watch in agony as his Snaab is towed away whilst he chats up his unnecessary son. Off he goes, chasing after the vehicle, eventually attempting to break into the tow lot to retrieve his briefcase from the backseat. Upon fleeing from an angry attendant, he plummets from atop a fence and cracks his cranium.
Enter Dr. Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker), a former pupil of the professor's, and one that was smitten with him at the time of her studies. She still recognizes the ill-tempered Wetherhold, only he doesn't seem to recall her (as he neglects to know the names of any of his students). The good doctor decrees that Wetherhold, due to injuries sustained, not operate a motor vehicle for six months. With a son busy at university and a daughter prepping for SATs, what's a grumpy, single bastard to do?
[End thesaurus assist.]
What follows is what you might expect from an indie comedy about dysfunctional people smarter than you that really act dumber than most of us and are probably more miserable than anyone. Quaid's Lawrence sees the error of his ways and grows, Page's daughter learns to loosen up, via the help of her ne'er do well uncle (Thomas Haden Church), who also conveniently takes up residence and becomes Lawrence's de facto chauffuer. Lawrence learns to let go of his deceased wife and love again, and they all live happily ever after. Except for the son, who (appropriately) disappears two-thirds of the way through, never to be seen again.
However, though the plot may be somewhat by numbers, the writing is sharp and funny, and delivered by a talented group of actors (Church and Page stand out, despite the much-covered similarities between Vanessa Wetherhold and Juno). No, what was more bothersome than any predictability was the lazy direction and use of music. Scene, scene, transition via cheesy acoustic guitar-laced sensitive rocker song. Scene, scene, transition via cheesy acoustic guitar-laced sensitive rocker song. Lather, rinse, and repeat. If that weren't bad enough, as it turns out, all the music was done by ex-Extreme guitarist Nuno Bettencourt. More than words, indeed.