Many people spend their whole lives trying to figure out who they are. Most of the time there is a conflict inside us between who we want to be and how others see us. While in many normal people there is somewhat of a balance, often we live in one realm or the other. Selfish people do only what they want to do, no matter what others say. Impressionable people do only what others want them to do. This conflict is the premise behind Smart People.

I think the film makers want you to believe (based on the plot summary on the DVD) that this is some sort of romance movie, but it is not. Instead, it treads familiar water with movies such as Little Miss Sunshine (2006) and maybe a less obscene Knocked Up (2007). Basically there are a bunch of uniquely different characters making up a dysfunctional family, and in the process of “life events” these characters find who they really are and redefine the connections between them. Like I said, we’ve seen this before countless times, but still, Smart People is an entertaining and enjoyable movie, but definitely not for everyone. To find out if its for you, read on;

Hayden-Church and Page in Smart People

|

|

|

|

|

|

|

|

|

|

Synopsis: Lawrence Wetherhold is a middle-aged college professor widower, and quite the grouch. Immediately the audience is shown that Wetherhold doesn’t seem to care about anything or anyone except getting his book published, which he has yet to be able to do (karma anyone?). He is the father of two children, Vanessa and James. James is a typical college student (the same one Lawrence teaches at) and Vanessa is an overachieving, opinionated high schooler. Chuck, is Lawrence’s adopted half brother, and he’s pretty much a slacker with no money. Much to Lawrence’s distaste, Chuck is forced to move in with the family because he has no where else to go. The clash between Chuck, Lawrence, and Vanessa causes all three to do new or different things, resulting in some of the films’ most comical and awkward moments. The plot of the film focuses on Lawrence, who in a fit of comical rage (stemming from his inability to control his own life) injures himself. While in the hospital he is reunited (not immediately…but eventually) with a former student, Janet Hartigan (now a doctor because his class had single handedly made her switch majors…not surprising). Lawrence eventually starts dating Janet, and basically everything Lawrence wants to happen doesn’t happen, no matter how much he tries. By the end of the film, everyone learns to accept life as it is, and the feeling you come away with is that you can’t always make your life how you want it to be, no matter how smart (yeah….that’s why it called Smart People) or talented you are. Its the old tetris analogy from a million other movies; you can’t choose the blocks, but you can arrange them so that they’ll all fit together.

This tag line works on many different levels...its quite funny actually
Acting: Dennis Quaid (Any Given Sunday, The Day After Tomorrow) plays Lawrence Wetherhold well. He captures the dorky, self-absorbed, clueless professor steretype well, and even manages to show homeliness and remorse when necessary. I am not much of a fan of Sarah Jessica Parker (Sex and the City), but does a great job as Janet Hartigan, especially considering her character does not verbally express her feelings at all, even though she has so much to endure. Ellen Page (Juno) pretty much plays a not-pregnant Juno (this was made before Juno), but less easygoing. Thomas Hayden-Church (Spider Man 3) plays the most entertaining character, Chuck, and he is perfectly cast. His lazy demeanor and quiet wisdom help to relieve the high-strung emotions of the other characters. Last, Ashton Holmes (A History of Violence) plays James, but we don’t really get to know his character well enough for his acting to matter. (23/25)

Plot/Script: Although it is slow and cliche in parts, it is generally satisfactory and entertaining to watch. The best part of the movie is the use of irony and dark humor throughout. For instance, when Lawrence finally does get his book published, it is not because it is a good book, but really because it is a bad book. I won’t spoil it, but lets just say the book becomes a perfect representation of Lawrence himself. Unfortunately, the movie lacks a real resolution. The movie just seemed to abruptly end at the most important moment, the moment when the relationships between the characters are tested. You get the feeling that everything will work out, but you don’t know for sure. (20/25)

Direction/Cinematography: Overall the direction was effective. Never does the film seem low budget except for a lack of establishing shots. The feel of the movie reminded me of Juno a lot; lots of greys and browns, thrift-store-like costumes (literally…), rain and darkness. None of this detracts from the movie, quite the opposite. The costumes and setting help to establish that these are real people with real lives. Nothing is glamorous, but that also means that nothing is really that exciting. (19/25)

Music/Editing/X-Factor: The music suited the film well. Not too many dives into the folk-rock bin at the local music store. I mean, as long as the music works. Too often do movies try to force a director’s/producer’s favorite music into the mix to get it heard. It has to work with the feel of the film. Still, something isn’t right. Maybe its the fact that for a Sundance movie, nothing seems original. (21/25)

The Verdict?

What Kept Me Watching It: It is mainly a character-driven movie, which is a refreshing thing to see these days . Most importantly, there’s a good message here and he movie helps to reinforce it.

What Killed It: It’s not a movie for everyone, a little slow and dry. Its also not very original.

Overall: Even smart people don’t know everything. Maybe they should watch this movie.

Final Rating:(83/100) B