Apr 2008 30

This new dramedy from Noam Murro is a mixed bag in that it can meander at times, but is also genuinely hilarious more than it wallows.
Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid) is an English professor who has to be driven around for 6 months after possibly suffering a seizure. Enter Chuck (Thomas Haden Church), his scheming and lazy step-brother that begs and borrows from Lawrence about once a year. Recently unemployed, Chuck takes on the role as driver and moves into the house and slowly begins forming a bond with, Vanessa (Ellen Page), Lawrence’s over-achieving intelligent daughter and a social nightmare. Lawrence is a widower who tries to kindle a romance with his ER doctor, Janet (Sarah Jessica Parker), and is also trying to get his son, James, to be more responsive to him; when he himself is actually the reason they don’t get along.
The movie falls into pretty conventional arcs and is pretty predictable along the way, but the film is funny, with a lot of really good laughs. Lawrence’s endeavors into dating and getting published show a lot about the character though and we become sympathetic for him even if he is kind of a pain in a lot of peoples asses. Lawrence’s arc is the most real and human of anyone one but his daughter and step-brother are the ones bringing in most of the laughs. Their bond is again predictable, and takes a giant creative mis-step in the progression of their relationship, but they are consistently the funniest of the characters in the film. The Lawrence and Janet romance is a bit all over the place as well with a bit of a drastic spin by one of the couple.
The acting is pretty good across the board thankfully. Quaid’s deadpan and sad man is hardly an original or new kind of character to film, but he does a good job of painting a sympathetic and realistic man for us to examine. Church is fantastic as the dead beat step-brother who makes a conventional arc but is consistently hilarious throughout the film with his irreverence and “advice.” Ellen Page is great again in her first release post-Juno, though she filmed this before that, and sells the snotty smart girl to a T. She carries a sarcastic/attacking bite to her that just cuts to people’s cores that works really well for the character and her film. Sarah Jessica Parker is the weak link in the film, though I think it’s more her character then it is her acting, she doesn’t have a lot to work with unfortunately.
Smart People, in the end, is an entertaining and consistently funny film. It might not be that original, though it feels fairly fresh, and the good turns by the actors is attribute to that. If you see it because of Page you won’t be disappointed as she continues her successful run and Church is great as well. The movie is a decent dramedy that’s story takes some awkward turns that don’t really work, but is saved by the successful humor and good acting.


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