It’s difficult to find the intelligence in “Smart People,” a serious comedy (yes, that’s right) with characters who are too smart for their own good.
After the death of his wife, English lit professor Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid) is beat down by life. He cant be bothered to remember his students names, his latest manuscript isnt being published and hes hoarding all of his late wifes clothes in the closet. Hes also pompous and dismissive, so liking him is a stretch.
His kids arent much better off. His daughter Vanessa (Ellen Page) is an uptight, plaid-wearing, card-carrying Young Republican who would rather study for the SATs than visit her father in the hospital.
His son James (Ashton Holmes) is a closet-poet who keeps even the biggest news away from his father rather than seek his approval.
It takes Lawrences adopted, half-stoned brother Chuck (Thomas Hayden Church) to break everyone out of their own monotony. Chuck is unmotivated, but probably the best hope for the family to reconnect, although the entrance of a certain doctor, Janet Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker), helps speed the melting of Lawrences cold exterior.
Though featuring a well-known cast, the film feels sophomoric as it strives to be quirky and original, but ends up being quaint and common.
Since “Smart People” is the first effort by director Noam Murro, as well as writer Mark Poirier, its hard to determine which is more to blame for its amateurish nature. The plot is sluggish and disjointed while the flow is jumpy and inconsistent.
The feeling that the story is told through a series of vignettes rather than a continuous whole is less surprising when you learn that director Murro is most well known for his promotional films (aka commercials).
For all its faults, “Smart People” isnt a complete wash. Quaid does a good job playing the curmudgeonly Lawrence, who walks through life as if all of his burdens have settled in the pit of his over-sized stomach.
Church and Parker play the livelier of the characters, so its tempting to call them the refreshing actors in the film, but theyre memorable more for their material than for their performances.
The ending of the film is one that most smart people are going to be disappointed with. After 90 minutes of watching a group of people who dont evoke much sympathy or emotion slouch through life, the cure-all thats presented is borderline insulting.
The snapshots that are presented of the Wetherholds lives are like visiting friends and having to look at their vacation pictures. You suffer through it, but are happy when the album is closed.
Contact the writer at TimPlant@gmail.com.