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» The Screening Log Review - Smart People

by Franck Tabouring, published on Friday, April 11, 2008 at 08:19PM

Seen on: April 11, 2008

The players: Director: Noam Murro, Writer: Mark Poirier, Cast: Dennis Quaid, Thomas Haden Church, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ellen Page, Camille Mana

Facts of interest: Premiered at the 2008 Sundance Festival.

The plot: A depressed widower (Quaid) and his angry daughter (Page) get a second chance at a leading a happy existence when an adopted brother and a medical doctor enter their lives without a warning.

Our quick thoughts: The title of “Smart People” couldn’t be more appropriate. Everything about this little cinematic jewel is smart. It boasts a smart story, smart dialogue and smart characters. It’s also a smart analysis of a dysfunctional family struggling to conquer its miserable existence, and it closely examines the transformation of self-absorbed smart alecks into enthusiastic, likeable individuals.

Written by Mark Poirier and directed by Noam Murro, this Sundance surprise hit follows the tragedy of professor Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid), an arrogant intellectual who’s unable to digest his wife’s death and limps through life unsociable and alone. The only one standing by him is his 17-year-old daughter Vanessa (Ellen Page), an angry overachiever who follows too closely in her father’s misery-stricken footsteps.

Everything changes with the sudden arrival of Lawrence’s adopted brother Chuck (Thomas Haden Church), a sluggish freeloader who’s low on cash and desperately needs a place to crash. Shortly after, Lawrence accidentally runs into a former student of his (Sarah Jessica Parker), forcing him to rethink his lifestyle and make an effort to finally make peace with his troubled past.

As the film’s tagline conveniently points out: sometimes the smartest people have the most to learn. Filled with catchy dialogue and sophisticated observations about the intricacies of life, “Smart People” is a humorous, quirky drama about a bunch of reclusive characters unable to defeat their desperations. Several twists in the plot will eventually give them the kick they need to really start living, and watching the whole situation unfold couldn’t be more exciting for us cinemagoers.

The most passionate aspect of this delicious little film is the way screenwriter Poirier treats his characters. When we first meet Lawrence, he’s about as grumpy as a man of his age can get. He can’t park his car, hates his job and uses big, complex words to show off his genius. In short, he’s an unfriendly mess of a being in desperate need of love. Nobody likes him, except his daughter, who herself spends all of her time putting down everyone she encounters. “What is it like to be stupid?” she asks one girl on a night out with her uncle Chuck.

As the story unfolds, Lawrence and Vanessa are slowly pulled out of their bubbles of misery, and into the real world. The film perfectly examines how little life circumstances can transform these characters and shape the beginning of their happy existence. It’s a real pleasure to watch the characters you hate at first turn into people you can’t help but feel sorry for.

Dennis Quaid and Thomas Haden Church deliver remarkable performances, each enlivening their eccentric characters with a solid dose of enthusiasm. Although her role substantially differs from her character in “Juno,” Ellen Page shines as cynical teenager who runs the household and spends her nights out with the young republicans. Even Sarah Jessica Parker convinced me in the role of an ambitious ER doctor and Lawrence’s romantic interest. This is probably the only noteworthy role she’s taken on since the end of “Sex and the City.”

Freaky quote: "Well, you’re not happy, and you’re my role model.” – Ellen Page

The final word: “Smart People” is a small independent film, and bears some similarities to Noah Baumbach’s sophisticated takes on dysfunctional families. Along with “The Savages,” it’s also one of the strongest flicks I’ve seen so far this year. Unfortunately, it also risks disappearing as quickly as it showed up in theaters. But if you’d like to have a great time watching smart people act totally weird before pulling themselves together and take a second shot at life, “Smart People” is undoubtedly worth the price of admission. Be smart; go see it.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Source: www.screeninglog.com

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