by Tony, published in April 2008|
Smart People is a rich, insightful look at a dysfunctional family. It is an intellectual melodrama featuring a creative script that is crammed with the type of wit that you would expect from the Smart People that the film inhabits. Dennis Quaid is outstanding as the English literary professor trying to get his dysfunctional life in some form of order. He is a widower struggling to adapt to his new existence as a single parent, raising two children (Ellen Page and Ashton Holmes), while attempting to maintain his career status and publish a book all at the same time.
To complicate his situation Quaid is injured in a rather embarrassing, freak, work-related accident that he would prefer people think was a mugging. Things dont get any easier when he falls in love with the doctor (Sarah Jessica Parker) who treats him at the hospital. As it turns out Quaid doesnt know that the Doctor was once a former student of his that had a crush on him. Thats right, Quaid is at that point in his life when he doesnt remember any names or any faces for that matter of the students that he once taught, no, let me rephrase that, Quaid even struggles to remember the names of his current students as well and is forced to peer at his roll call sheet in class to clarify things. Add to this situation, Quaids adopted, deadbeat brother (Thomas Haden Church) who moves into his home, unwanted, and becomes his chauffeur because Quaids injury prevents him from driving. After continuous knock backs by publishers, Quaids book is given a new lease of life, via a title change (You Cant Read) suggested by his daughter. His daughter is more akin to his emotional and mental state than anyone that he knows and is almost like a mini-him. His son on the other hand is on a different plane.
Although shot before Juno, Smart People is the 2nd time in recent months that audiences are able to see Ellen Page and this film provides filmgoers with another great opportunity to see the extremely talented young actress at work. Page again plays a sharp-tongued teen and puts in a fine performance as Quaids conscientious, over-achiever daughter. In one memorable line, that embodies the essence of the "Smart People" in this film, Page, in a bar scene asks a fellow teen "What's it like being stupid?". Page is not the only scene stealer in this film that is crackling with great dialogue. The other one is Thomas Haden Church, who is still echoing the same quirks as his Sideways character. As comedy relief, Church comes up with some of films best quips, one that comes to mind is when he says to Quaid, only moments before Quaid's date with Parker, "You spend $50 on dinner, that's grounds for intercourse". Church's immaturity and never grow-up attitude brings a sense of grounding to the smart but complicated characters that surround him. However, Churchs unreliable but free-spirited approach to life has its consequences when he attempts to break Ellen Pages character out of her shell and sensibilities by getting her drunk and exposing her to marijuana use.
Dennis Quaid, at times resembling more a homeless alcoholic than a literary professor, gives a performance that appears to be almost mimicking that of actor, Harrison Ford. This is not the first time I have found this association with Quaids performance, he also reminded me of Harrison Ford in the romantic comedy In Good Company (2004). It seems the older Quaid gets the more he reminds me of Harrison Ford, whatever the case, Quaid embodies the eccentricities of the literary professor convincingly. As for Quaid's relationship with Sarah Jessica Parker, it's ironic to note that there is a small mirroring of events between Quaid's recent real-life happenings with those of his Professor character. I won't entirely go into it, but let's just say the result of his relationship with Parker plays out on the end credits. Also, if I was to pinpoint a small gripe with the film it would be that the chemistry between Quaid and Sarah Jessica Parker is slightly lacking. It seems Parker does her best with a role that I believe is somewhat under-developed.
Smart People is a mature film for mature people. Arty, intelligent, melancholy and brimming with understated wit; Smart People magnifies lifes frustrations to comedic and dramatic effect. In fact "Smart People" may not soar to great heights for everybody but it was nevertheless a pleasant surprise for me and was actually a much better film than I expected. It also reminded me of the Michael Douglas film Wonder Boys (2000) which coincidentally is also about an English professor trying to publish a book. I dont know what it is about writers but they make great fodder for movie script writers. When you watch Smart People give the characters some time to marinate and I am sure you will get something out of it. One thing is for sure book worms and English teachers will love it.
Rating: 3,5 out of 5