Smart People is a pretentious independent film with banal characters portrayed by a who’s who cast of festival favorites in a plot devoid of substance. It unfortunately tries too hard to be smart, rather than attempting to be entertaining.
Featuring the debuts of screenwriter Mark Poirier and director Noam Murro, the film is a 95-minute exercise in the rudimentary. The crude display of technical paint-by-number scenes are matched by the cliché, one-dimensional roles, a heap of squandered potential for its acting talent. That is if you can hear the discourse over the incessant strumming of the acoustic guitar or make out the performances amidst the subfusc settings.
Dennis Quaid plays Lawrence Wetherhold, an arrogant, misanthropic college professor with an ostentatious vocabulary and a glib elocution. He’s socially inept, completely unaware that his family is dysfunctional following the inexplicable death of his wife. The wardrobe supervisor located a typical professor jacket for Quaid to slouch around in and he grew a beard to appear scholarly, but the drab clothing and facial hair smothers his usual charm and likability.
An equally mustachioed Thomas Haden Church plays Chuck, his adopted brother with no options other than to become a live-in chauffeur. Church’s trademark dry delivery does little to enhance the forced humor and canned quirkiness. Instead he just looks bored most of the film.
Chuck is engaged in a borderline incestuous relationship with Vanessa Wetherhold (Ellen Page). How that unwonted affair emerged from her contrived “I’m busy studying for the SAT” subplot isn’t readily pellucid. Page is underused, especially after her breakthrough Oscar-nominated Juno, but she manages to make the most of the overly-ambitious brat.
After suffering a head injury and seizure, Lawrence embarks on a relationship with his emergency room physician and former student, Janet (Sarah Jessica Parker). She’s either the most desperate human being ever or she particularly fancies second and third dates with men she categorically despises. But an unspoken rumination montage set to (what else) acoustic guitar helps her discover there’s more to love than enjoying someone’s company, having anything in common with them, or even a modicum of sexual chemistry.
Smart People may have been a film to consider viewing on DVD, but now that it has arrived, I suggest you skip it. In this case, ignorance is bliss.
I admittedly hammed up the vocabulary to make my point about this film trying too hard to be intelligent. If you got bored of my overuse of the thesaurus, now you know how I feel having seen this movie. It was like Poirier tried adapting a “Word of the Day” calendar into a movie and forgot to write a story.
But if you’ve learned nothing from this review, at least take this with you: “defenestrate” means to throw out a window.
1.5 out of 5.