Review by Jack Foley
A GREAT cast and a pithy script go some way to keeping Smart People entertaining even though Noam Murro’s tale of family dysfunction feels like it’s been done once too many times before.
The film centres around grizzled college professor and widower Lawrence (Dennis Quaid) as he attempts to cope with the trials and tribulations posed by his lazy adopted brother (Thomas Haden Church) and acid-tongued daughter (Ellen Page) among many other family problems.
Redemption could be close at hand, however, if he can only get over his own self-absorption and realise the growing affections of one of his former pupils, now a nurse (Sarah Jessica Parker).
As easy as Smart People is to watch, there’s a nagging suspicion that it’s borrowing plot devices and performances from other, better movies.
As good as Quaid is as the grumpy professor, for instance, his performance is very similar in both look and demeanour to Jeff Daniels’ in the similarly themed The Squid & The Whale, while Ellen (Juno) Page proves, beyond doubt, that she has cornered the market in lippy, free-thinking teens and doesn’t really feel stretched. Even Thomas Haden Church delivers only a slight variation on his performance in Sideways, although is clearly having fun in the process.
That said, the central romance between Quaid and Sarah Jessica Parker is well played and suitably cringe inducing in places, with Parker doing extremely well to create a character that’s genuinely worth rooting for.
While Haden Church’s easygoing charisma ensures that the film is boosted whenever he’s around – which isn’t often enough.
As familiar as things are, Mark Poirier’s screenplay also contains a good few moments that will bring a smile to the face. It’s just a shame that given the calibre of the talent involved, Smart People couldn’t have been a little smarter in trying to appear more original.
Running time: 1hr 35mins
UK DVD Release: September 15, 2008