“I don’t think you’re very happy Vanessa.”
“Well you’re not happy…and you’re my role model.”
Featuring an all star cast, Smart People fails to deliver in it’s attempt to become an independent comedy/drama hit in the vein of Little Miss Sunshine and Juno. Directed by Noam Murro, the film features Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ellen Paige, and Thomas Hayden Church. Much of the film centers around the Quaid character as he is forced to realize he’s not a very nice guy and needs to lighten up. The problem with the film however, is Quaid is to my eyes, perfectly just in all his opinions and actions. Not being on the same side as the protagonist in the film is a problem and while I don’t feel like this is the case for most, it left me with a sense of not enjoying the story because of how the main character was treated.
Lawrence Wetherhold is an author and teacher at a fairly prestigious college who wants to publish an intellectual book. He’s not happy with his life and those surrounding it. That’s the basis of the story and I can get along with that premise. The problem is that director Murro changes this character so he’s much more open about other people’s feelings and their points of view. It’s such a politically correct move it washes out anything interesting the the film might be going for. Something that I hope is unintentional is the storyline about Lawrence and his book. He offers up a book but it’s dry so to sell it, the editors make wholesale changes and make the book a bullying proclamation about the state of intellectual ideas, taking out all the interesting aspects of the book for more easily digestible material. What’s funny to me is I can see this story and film in the exact same light. I imagine this once to be a script that had biting dialogue and subject matter and through the great machine was turned into a pale imitation of itself.
Getting to the plot of the film, Lawrence is unhappy and his daughter Vanessa, played brilliantly by the hilarious Ellen Page is his copy. She looks up to him and wants to copy his life. She’s well on her way as she’s been accepted to Stanford and believes she received a perfect score on her SAT’s. Where the film falls down for me is the characters of Chuck Wetherhold and Janet Hartigan played by Thomas Haden Church and Sarah Jessica Parker. Church, is the doofus adopted brother who frequents scams and get rich quick schemes. Parker is a doctor who falls for Lawrence although she’s just as unhappy as he is throughout the film, she consistently lectures him on changes his ways. This is one of the more irritating performances I’ve seen in a while as Parker’s character is so unlikable and predictable it’s really a wonder this made it through a script editor. Church as the doofus brother plays the role well but brings nothing to the performance other that what’s on the page. There is no charisma here, no watch-ability and the storyline where Ellen Paige’s character would have a crush on him is simply ludicrous. This is a film where the bones are there. There is a good movie in here but the combination of some uninspired casting, some terrible characters and some lazy performances results in a movie that’s instantly forgettable.