I haven’t reviewed a movie in a while and I first want to apologize and secondly, I want to dive right into what I thought of Smart People. When I first heard about this movie, I was initially interested in the dark and quirky feel to it. I think I am a closet fan of Dennis Quaid in serious roles and after seeing this one, I am now a fan of Thomas Hayden Church of Wings fame.
Smart People is a movie that takes a look at some very intelligent people with some very unintelligent views on life and people. Dennis Quaid stars as Lawrence, a miserable widower professor of Victorian Literature at the prestigious Carnegie Mellon who “shrugs” through life indifferent to everything and everyone who he feels falls below his current literary IQ. He never remembers student’s names because he could really care less about them, and if not for the fact that his own daughter is masquerading as his wife to get his attention, he wouldn’t remember her name either. Playing his over-achieving and too-smart-for-her-own-good daughter is indie queen Ellen Page.
He’s so over-the-top in his portrayal of the pitiful pathetic widower that the studio fakes him having a beer belly by giving him an obvious “beer belly suit” that reveals itself every time he bends over. I can almost hear the director giving him cues, “Alright Dennis, I need you to walk with a hunch so that the audience knows you’re down in the dumps. The fat suit will help that, but in order to pull it off, I need you to shrug your shoulders and hunch-walk.”
His daughter Vanessa, played by Ellen Page, is friendless and lonely, and is pursuing with unmovable force a perfect score on the SAT’s and her dad’s affection through doing everything her mom did; she cooks every meal, she makes sure her Dad gets to school on time, she even corrects him on how he should talk to women. I felt like her character was a cliche. I’ve seen the misunderstood over-achiever who just wants her daddy to notice her killing herself over his love, and Ellen in my opinion didn’t add anything unique to that category of character. She’s witty, sarcastic, and smarter than anyone her age, but that’s who she plays in every movie. I wanted to see a different side of her. Show me innocence, show me vulnerability, show me something besides the sarcastic and cynical twentysomething.
Just when I thought that the movie wasn’t going to find its center and deliver something to me that’s more than just a quirky-for-quirkyness-sake film, in walks Thomas Hayden Church. He was the saving grace of this film. He plays Quaid’s adopted brother, which in and of itself is funny, who travels from endless job to endless job just coasting through life. He finds himself at his brother’s house after Quaid has a seizure and can’t drive for 6 months. His lazy and effortless comedic timing really added levity to an otherwise heavy and dreary movie.
Overall, I didn’t love it and I didn’t hate it, I kind of just watched it. It falls flat in a lot of places with regards to real human emotion and the suffering loss of a loved one, particularly with Quaid and his over-the-top self-pity, but the performance of Thomas Hayden Church helped to make it worth watching.
Content Warning: R for language, brief teen drug and alcohol use and for some sexuality. The relationship between Ellen Page and Thomas Hayden Church gets a little creepy throughout the film and it was a distraction, a disturbing one, but there is no nudity and overly sexual content.0