MOVIE: *** (out of 5)
DVD EXPERIENCE: *** (out of 5)
Dennis Quaid as LAWRENCE WETHERHOLD
Sarah Jessica Parker as JANET HARTIGAN
Thomas Haden Church as CHUCK WETHERHOLD
Ellen Page as VANESSA WETHERHOLD
Directed by: Noam Murro
BY KEVIN CARR
Have you ever had someone correct your spelling in a friendly email? Or, have you ever written or typed something only to have someone hand it back to you with red-pen corrections like some pretentious English teacher? I hate that.
These are the kind of people featured in the film “Smart People.” Instead of being a film that revels in white trash stupidity, it revels in over-intellectual stupidity. The characters in “Smart People” might have high IQs, but they are woefully inept at dealing with others in a social context.
This film follows a family of pompous windbags who lead horribly dysfunctional lives. Dennis Quaid stars as Lawrence Wetherhold, a self-important literature professor who hasn’t gotten over his wife’s death. His daughter Vanessa (Ellen Page) is an overly-ambitious girl who is more interested in career and college than having a good time.
After suffering a head injury, Lawrence discovers his doctor is a former student, and after getting over a whole bag of interpersonal problems, try to have a go at a relationship. While this is happening, Lawrence’s adopted brother Chuck (Thomas Haden Church) breezes into town and throws the family into a whirlwind. However, it is the brother of lesser intelligence that inspires both Lawrence and Vanessa to begin living their lives and not get caught up in their own airs.
The charm of “Smart People” is watching these characters squirm and eventually come out of their shells. Ellen Page shows only a modicum of range as the character of Vanessa is nothing more than a non-pregnant June. Sarah Jessica Parker comes off well, although her similar appearance in “The Family Stone” is hard to top in terms of comedies of family dysfunction. But it’s Thomas Haden Church, ironically playing the only non-smart person in the film, that really steals the show.
When it comes to pompous intellectual windbag characters, Noah Baumbach broke the mold with his wretched family in “The Squid and the Whale,” but “Smart People” comes in a close second. Director Noam Murro gets a little high on himself with looking down on everyone from academic types to college Republicans, but fortunately he spends his time behind the camera letting good actors tell a good story.
The DVD comes with a handful of deleted scenes, bloopers and interviews with the filmmakers and cast. There’s a feature commentary by director Murro and writer Mark Jude Poirier, but I wouldn’t suggest listening to it. They come across as pompous and windbaggy as the characters they’re sending up in the film.