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Apr 24, 2008

Fletch's Film Review: Smart People

Smart People is a piece of cinema seemingly crafted by obtuse individuals. Despite featuring a strong screenplay by greenhorn writer Mark Poirier, the leadership by fellow neophyte director Noam Murro lacks imagination.

Dennis Quaid stars as a boorish Victorian English professor at Carnegie-Mellon University. We know he is an insolent soul because he parks his Euro sedan (a Snaab, if I recall) in two spaces. Apparently, his spouse expired some inordinate length of time ago, and he sees this as an opportunity to be cantankerous for his remaining days. Around the time of our introduction, his lazybones con man of an hermano (adopted, by the way) enters the picture, in need of some duckets and perhaps a domicile. Already cohabiting with Quaid's Lawrence Wetherhold is his conformist conservative adolescent daughter, played by Juno's Ellen Page. She is wholly independent, too intelligent for her own good, and altogether miserable, lacking popularity, gentleman callers, and an adequate home life. Thrown in for no good reason is Wetherhold's college pupil son, an undercooked role that feels neglected and whose only purpose is to advance the plot where necessary.

One of the times he warrants attention is in the commencement of the film, as Lawrence necessitates a place to be where he can watch in agony as his Snaab is towed away whilst he chats up his unnecessary son. Off he goes, chasing after the vehicle, eventually attempting to break into the tow lot to retrieve his briefcase from the backseat. Upon fleeing from an angry attendant, he plummets from atop a fence and cracks his cranium.

Enter Dr. Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker), a former pupil of the professor's, and one that was smitten with him at the time of her studies. She still recognizes the ill-tempered Wetherhold, only he doesn't seem to recall her (as he neglects to know the names of any of his students). The good doctor decrees that Wetherhold, due to injuries sustained, not operate a motor vehicle for six months. With a son busy at university and a daughter prepping for SATs, what's a grumpy, single bastard to do?

[End thesaurus assist.]

What follows is what you might expect from an indie comedy about dysfunctional people smarter than you that really act dumber than most of us and are probably more miserable than anyone. Quaid's Lawrence sees the error of his ways and grows, Page's daughter learns to loosen up, via the help of her ne'er do well uncle (Thomas Haden Church), who also conveniently takes up residence and becomes Lawrence's de facto chauffuer. Lawrence learns to let go of his deceased wife and love again, and they all live happily ever after. Except for the son, who (appropriately) disappears two-thirds of the way through, never to be seen again.

However, though the plot may be somewhat by numbers, the writing is sharp and funny, and delivered by a talented group of actors (Church and Page stand out, despite the much-covered similarities between Vanessa Wetherhold and Juno). No, what was more bothersome than any predictability was the lazy direction and use of music. Scene, scene, transition via cheesy acoustic guitar-laced sensitive rocker song. Scene, scene, transition via cheesy acoustic guitar-laced sensitive rocker song. Lather, rinse, and repeat. If that weren't bad enough, as it turns out, all the music was done by ex-Extreme guitarist Nuno Bettencourt. More than words, indeed.

Fletch's Film Rating:

"You seem a decent fellow. I hate to kill you."

8 people have chosen wisely: on "Fletch's Film Review: Smart People"

Pat said...

I agree wtih you totally about the annoying music and the son-as-afterthought-and-plot-device. But I didn't feel the arc of the story was all that predictable, or that any of the characters really grew up or loosened up very much in the course of the film. Mostly I just found them unlikable.

WaywardJam said...

@pat: Here here! I agree, they belabored the sadness of their lives so long that the 2.5 minutes devoted to their redemption seemed like someone had revved up the Wrap-it Up Box.

Go for the acting, leave because of the directing.

The older brother; totally wasted. I'd bet there's 30 minutes of him on the cutting room floor.

Fletch said...

@ Pat - well, Quaid's and SJP's characters were certainly unlikable, but I suppose we'll have to agree to disagree on the predictability/growth factor. I was pleased, though, that it didn't tie everything up into a sweet little bow at the end.

@ Wayne - Yeah, I saw you had a soft spot for the son in your review. He was pretty good in History of Violence, but either should have been cut less here, or cut out altogether.

Daniel G. said...

I second Pat's emotion. Really, it didn't seem like the characters changed all that much by the end. Also, not enough Church and Page, imo.

NFL Adam said...

Is that Lacey Charbett on the right? Because I could be in.

Anonymous said...

If that weren't bad enough, as it turns out, all the music was done by ex-Extreme guitarist Nuno Bettencourt. More than words, indeed.


Such crap. Ever hear any of Nuno's work with Extreme. They are a great rock band. Ever hear any songs from all four albums, like Extreme, Extreme 2: Pornograffitti, III Sides To Every Story, Waiting For The Punchline. The band disbanded for 13 years and now has gotten back together and has a new album coming out in June titled, Saudedes de Rock. Nuno Bettencourt is an incredibly talented guitarist, singer and songwriter. Why Extreme was on hiatus Nuno made the solo album which features the song Pursuit Of Happiness in it, titled Schizophonic. Than Mourning Widows was created, Population 1 and Dramagods. Gary Cherone was briefly in Van Halen and formed a band with Extreme bassist Pat Badger Tribe Of Judah and also a band called Hurtsmile.

In defense of Nuno Bettencourt, look Extreme and him up on youtube and learn more about this artist before talking this crap.

BTW, I saw the film, it was ok. and I thought Nuno's score was one of the best things about it.

Fletch said...

@ Anon - you say I'm "talking this crap." I say I had to listen it.

Differing opinions are bound to happen; running through album titles and track listings probably isn't going to change mine.

Dan said...

I guess you can remove ex-Extreme. Had no idea that rock band was releasing a new album, thanks for the news. As for this debate about Nuno, it's all about the music. Extreme was labled hair-band for the #1 acoustic hit More Than Words, but I own the albums they produced and they are quite heavy rock 'n' roll for those who know them for that 1 song, it's not like that at all. Nuno is a shredder on electric guitar, that band just liked to experiment that's all.

I kind of wanted to see this movie, I'll wait to rent it.