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Movie Review

Smart People

MPAA Rating: R for language, brief teen drug and alcohol use, and for some sexuality

Reviewed by: Jonathan Rodriguez
CONTRIBUTOR

Offensive
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults
Genre:
Romance, Comedy, Drama
Length:
1 hr. 35 min.
Year of Release:
2008
USA Release:
April 11, 2008 (wide—1150 theaters)
Copyright, Miramax Films Copyright, Miramax Films Copyright, Miramax Films Copyright, Miramax Films Copyright, Miramax Films Copyright, Miramax Films Copyright, Miramax Films Copyright, Miramax Films Copyright, Miramax Films
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Featuring: Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Thomas Haden Church, Ellen Page, Ashton Holmes, David Denman, Camille Mana
Director: Noam Murro
Producer: Omar Amanat, Steffen Aumueller, Bill Block, Claus Clausen, Michael Costigan, Marina Grasic, Bridget Johnson, Michael London, Kenneth Orkin, Bruna Papandrea, Jennifer Roth, Edward Rugoff, Glenn M. Stewart, John Woldenberg
Distributor: Miramax Films

“Sometimes the smartest people have the most to learn.”

Dysfunction is the name of the game for the Wetherhold family in the new movie “Smart People.” Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid) is a cranky, depressed widower/literature professor who suffers a “trauma induced seizure” while trying to scale a fence, after swiping his briefcase from a car in the impound lot. He is admitted to a hospital, where a former patient of his, Dr. Janet Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker), is in charge of his care. She informs him that he will not be allowed to drive for six months, because of the seizure.

His deadbeat brother Chuck (Thomas Haden Church) comes to the rescue; he needs money and a place to stay, and therefore would make the perfect driver for Lawrence, because Lawrence's daughter Vanessa (Ellen Page) is far too busy with her high school responsibilities to wait on her father, hand and foot. Lawrence's son James (Ashton Holmes) lives on campus at the school where his dad teaches, but prefers dorm life to the depressing environment at home. The arrival of Chuck, and the blossoming romance with Janet, force Lawrence to evaluate himself, the choices he has made along the way, and see where his attitude has affected the lives of his children.

For an R-rated film, I was fairly surprised by how relatively tame the content was. There are a handful of F-words (maybe 6) and a few other colorful words. We also see Chuck's bare backside on two brief occasions (played entirely for comic affect). Lawrence and Vanessa sleep together after their second “first date,” but nothing is seen but them talking clothed in bed afterwards. Chuck lights a joint and talks Vanessa into trying it, and then takes her to a bar to “loosen” her up. And there is a brief scene where James and his girlfriend are seen making out in their underwear. But, when you stop and consider the content in many PG-13 rated films, let alone R-rated ones, it is almost refreshing to sit through a film like this where we come out relatively unscathed.

The performances are all right on the mark. Thomas Haden Church stands out again for his fantastic delivery of smartly written dialogue, and like he did in “Sideways” makes a great comic sidekick. Ellen Page plays a very “Juno-esque” role, and delivers once again. The characters themselves are a bit standard for this type of dysfunction-driven comedy-drama, but the actors bring us a different take on the well-worn character types.

Sadly, as with most Hollywood films, family problems and serious character flaws are never solved by focusing on building the character's relationship with God. Joy is temporarily derived from sex, or drugs, or relationships, and not from the only One who can gives us permanent peace and joy. The film does, however, provide it's adult viewers with an opportunity to discuss these things afterwards, and for that, I can recommend this movie to cautious Christian adult viewers.

Violence: None / Profanity: Heavy / Sex/Nudity: Moderate

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Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Positive
Positive—This is an entertaining, but very worldly, film about extremely dysfunctional people. It succeeds in showing the many aspects of personalities—that someone could seem to be good for nothing, yet have more wisdom than an apparently successful person. Unfortunately, this point is made through a hodge-podge of thematic elements. Sarah Jessica Parker is completely miscast, in my opinion, as a physician and girlfriend to the miserable professor, played very well by Dennis Quaid. Ellen Page's performance is too reminiscent of Juno, or maybe her skills as an actress are limited. Thomas Haden Church carried the show in his laconic manner. I enjoyed the movie, but I saw all the ungodliness of the worldview which this movie depicts. For the wary audience only.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Very Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4
Halyna Barannik, age 62
Positive—What makes Smart work is not its witty, intellectual dialogue of a few academia crack cats, but the people. This is a character-driven story, much like a play, where each actor has not only a part to play, but also a major responsibility in bringing the tale to life given limited resources.

Thomas Haden Church is the show-stopper. He is the token bum in this story. The lethargic space-filling guy who sits around the house all day in ol’ college sweat shirts eating cereal and smoking weed. He's middle-aged, with no steady job and no direction, other than providing the film's much needed comic timing. And as stories of this nature would have it, it is Church's character that provides the key insight in the midst of chaos. Harmony is his middle name.

Ellen Page plays the usual prodigy teenager stuck in the higher halls of learning known as highschool (or school period as is the case in X3). She looks young enough and is frail enough to pass as a high school student… and not much else quite frankly, even though she's scarce a year my junior. I used to think she was the bomb shiggity, but I've sinced changed my mind. Too many of the same uptight, snooty, snobby, holier-than-thou, goody-two-shoes, Charlie Bravo (pardon the military nomenclature) roles has left a bad taste in my mouth. In any event, she's this bottled-up sophisticated emo child (minus the drab and war paint) with no life, no friends, and too straight 'n narrow for her own good. Thanks to her wayward uncle though, she takes a stab at pot, drinking and even making out with him (in her drunken stupor of course). Not that I laud her character's break from continuity… I'm simply asserting she loosens up by the end of the film.

Dennis Quaid is perfectly cast as the pompous literature professor. Quaid has that dry, monotone gravelly voice and beard that goes hand-in-hand with 50ish professors who prefer sweaters and vests over t-shirts whilst lounging around the house. And he's rocking his age ever so deftly with uncanny style. His furrowed brow, wrinkled grin, and deliberately paced cadence all but speak his every musing before escaping his lips.

Sarah Jessica Parker… is just there.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Jacob Keenum, age 22
Negative
Negative—I was shocked and surprised byt he PG rating for this movie. It is by far a 18 + movie. The language alone was a real turn off. A young womens interest in her Uncle and the lack of parenting skills shown by Quaid was not taken lightly. You have a 17 year old girl who shelters her father and is totally rude and into herself, and looks down on others …not a good role model. You have Dennis Quaid who is an amazing actor acting like an old man who is falling in love with Sarah Jessica Parker. It was a disgusting feeling to their love affair, there was no connection there, to the audience it was almost grotesque to watch, he looked horrible in this movie, and she looked old and haggard. It was not a good fir for those two. The Language was the worst, even a lady behind me commented and she was laughing her head off throughout the movie. She had her 12 year old son with her, and said there was a lot the movie didn't need. The scenes of the uncles “Butt” may have been funny but were uncalled for. I found the movie morally offensive and lack of personality, dragged out and the characters there was no connection, but made me cringe. Poor! The only positive thing was tthe children seemed smart and were going to college/university. I would never recommend this movie, period. Turned me off of Dennis Quaid.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Extremely Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 1
—Sherrie O'brien, age 31
Comments from young people
Negative—I have never almost fallen asleep in a movie… until this one. “Smart People” is probably one of the most boring movies I have ever seen. It had zero plot to it, and seemed to go on and on without any redeeming qualities along the way. There is a lot of cursing, sex, and drug use in the film. I would not recommend this movie to anyone; it is a waste of time and money.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Very Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3
—Alexis, age 16