Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Smart People

This was a little movie that slipped in and out of theaters back in April. I saw a couple of trailers for it, but never heard from it again. A few days I was finally able to catch it. I was excited because of the great cast involved, but it turned out to be a moderate dud.

The movie is about widowed English professor Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid) and his family. He has a strained relationship with his conservative daughter, Vanessa (Ellen Page), rebellious son, James (Ashton Holmes) and deadbeat brother, Chuck (Thomas Haden Church). A combination of impatience and arrogance results in Lawrence injuring his head. This acts as a catalyst to bring him closer to his brother, whom he hires as a driver, and introduces Lawrence to his love interest/doctor Janet Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker).

The movie primarily deals with egotism and a holier than thou mentality. This prevented me from enjoying much of the movie. Even when the characters try to redeem themselves, it's done very superficially. Just as he's starting to connect with his daughter, Lawrence starts spending all of his time with Janet. This drives Vanessa and Chuck awkwardly close together. Neither of these two grow much from this new situation either. As the characters realize their faults, they simply become more and more stubborn. The movie is about imperfections, but instead of improving them, it seems they simply don't care. The only characters I could understand was James, in his attempts to distance himself and move on with a new life in college.

The acting is all well and good. This was certainly an A level cast, but they weren't really stretching themselves here. The actors could only do so much with such single dimensional characters. That's one way to judge an actor against a director or the movie as a whole. If the whole cast is uniformly stiff, it's probably not just their fault.

The movie had potential to be one of those great dysfunctional family movies like The Squid and the Whale or Imaginary Heroes. Somehow those movies managed to rise above the unlikeable characters, whereas Smart People just kind of wallows in them. The movie wasn't bad, but it didn't have the sparkle I would expect from such a powerhouse cast.


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