Review by Ryan Cracknell, published on August 17, 2008|
Being smart can be a dangerous tool. Use it to look down upon people or make them look stupid (even if they are) and you're an outcast. On the other hand, there's a responsibility that goes with intelligence. Just like Superman uses his heat vision, Spider-man uses his strength and Wolverine uses his claw things, brains must be used to better society.
Smart People aims to show that there's more to being smart than just being able to throw out big words, discuss theories of literary discourse and acing the SAT exam. The film argues that there's something called relationships that must compliment book smarts in order to find true meaning in life. Yet even in pointing out the falseness of talking down to people for the sake of coming across as intelligent, Smart People does just that.
Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid) is a literature professor at Carnegie Mellon. He's also a single dad to two teenagers: closet intellectual/poet James (Ashton Holmes) and socially inept Young Republican Vanessa (Ellen Page). Lawrence's wife, presumably just as smart as the rest of them, has passed on and Lawrence is finally, maybe, ready to begin dating again.
Enter Dr. Janet Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Lawrence's sad-sack brother Chuck (Thomas Haden Church). Janet's a former student who feels pity for Lawrence as well as an old college crush. Chuck, well he's there for laughs and to further emphasize the dysfunction of Lawrence.
There's something about Smart People that feels horribly rushed or disjointed. Leaps in time are made where you're supposed to assume that feelings have developed and relationships have changed either for the better or the worse. There is little to show why Lawrence's infatuation for Janet was anything more than physical. Yet there he is moping even more when a rough patch hits. He may still be in mourning, he may experience some awkwardness getting back in the dating game but there's still little to hang their relationship on. Without giving too much of the plot away, every relationship in the film feels this way at times as well. It's as though either there was a whole lot left out after editing or this would be the first few episodes of a cable sitcom.
Watching Smart People, I couldn't help but thinking about the recently released and much funnier Dan in Real Life. It deals with the same sense of loss and coping with it over family strife, yet it's more direct and doesn't look down on its audience, even in enlightening them. Dan in Real Life is more funny, feels more authentic and, as a result, has more to offer both from an entertainment perspective and an educational one.
Smart People has some solid moments, however given the strong cast and potentially potent subject matter, it's definitely a disappointment. I've got nothing against smart people and I love smart films. What I'm not a fan of is pretentiousness disguised as intelligence, which is what I felt like I was exposed to here.
Smart People comes to DVD with a nice enhanced widescrreen picture and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround audio. There's also French, Spanish and ENglish subtitles. Director Noam Murro and writer Mark Jude Poirier provide a chit-chatty commentary that's solid but not wholly revealing. "The Smartest People" is a revealing behind-the-scenes look at the film from several angles. Running more than 15 minutes, it includes a lot of cast and crew interview clips. The DVD also includes nine deleted scenes totalling ten minutes, a blooper reel and a variety of previews.