Length: 95 minutes
Director: Noam Murro (Human Capital)
Writer: Mark Poirier
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Ellen Page, Sarah Jessica Parker, Thomas Haden Church, Ashton Holmes, Christine Lahti, Camille Mana, David Denman
“Smart People” is a movie we’ve all seen before. It’s not a remake of any sort, but the characters, the actions, the dilemmas- they are all borrowed from other, better movies. I thought about Curtis Hanson’s brilliant “Wonder Boys” afterwards and imagined that this movie had set that film as it’s high mark. It doesn’t quite get there. Why? It’s puzzling. The film does have a great cast- Dennis Quaid is excellent, Thomas Haden Church brings the comic relief, and Ellen Page, fresh from her “Juno” acclaim, portrays a character that could have be Juno in a few more years minus all those baby issues and weird clothing. But despite it’s unoriginality, one of the movie’s biggest flaws is it’s female lead- Sarah Jessica Parker. She was a wonderful Carrie Bradshaw on HBO’s “Sex and the City”, yet for whatever reason she hasn’t been able to pull off an adequate screen performance since she was Steve Martin’s bimbo mistress in 1991’s “L.A. Story”. This film, fragile enough, becomes even more unglued every time she appears onscreen. A scene in which she is greeted, rather unkindly, by Page’s character (Quaid’s daughter in the film) is a pure example, as Page seems to blow her off the screen without even trying. It’s a flaw because her character is essential in making the picture work. She is the outsider brought into a dysfunctional family of selfish, “smart” people. Quaid portrays a literary professor and novelist who is still adjusting to his wife’s death and the fact that he can’t find a publisher for his new novel. After an accident involving his car (well, his attempt to retrieve his car rather), he finds himself in the hands of his slacker adopted brother (Church), who becomes his completely unreliable chauffeur. At home, Quaid isn’t sure what to do about his daughter. She is a perfectionist and their relationship is a distant one. When she receives a call from the hospital after her father’s accident, she is more concerned that she will be missing out on studying for her S.A.T.s then his well being. She, in turn, becomes attached to her uncle because he is the opposite of her father and that relationship begins to grow into an even more unhealthy one. Parker is Quaid’s nurse and former student. Quaid has a terrible habit of forgetting his student’s names- current and past- and only remembers her after her gay best friend (“The Office”’s David Denman) informs him that she had a “thing” for him. She did and maybe it has to do with the fact that he treated her harshly in class and gave her thesis, in her opinion, an unfair grade. So now what? The movie doesn’t really have an answer. It floats around for the remainder of it’s ninety five minutes as the characters awkwardly interact with each other and it all leads to a conclusion that feels even more awkwardly forced and inappropriate. I saw the movie twice at the theaters (yep, still using those free passes), because I felt that maybe I missed something the first time around. The second time I liked it even less. Could it have been a better film without Parker and maybe an Amy Adams instead? The first time I would have said absolutely. The second time I wasn’t so sure.
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