Smart People
They’re either watching the Discovery Channel or Oprah … or porn.

Theatrical Release Date: 04/11/2008
Director: Noam Murro
Cast: Dennis Quaid, Ellen Page, Thomas Haden Church, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ashton Holmes

Hot off the heels of sweeping America off their feet, Ellen Page is back again with another wry character. Wait, this film isn’t all about her? She doesn’t even gets pregnant? Huh.

One thing to note with “Smart People” is that it was actually made before the critically acclaimed fan-favorite, “Juno“. While I haven’t delved into the reasons why this was delayed, I’m sure a significant reason it’s now being released nationwide is due the success of “Juno”. You mean to tell me it’s just a coincidence that the DVD hits shelves this upcoming Tuesday? Uh-huh … and “Waterworld” isn’t a terrible, reverse version of “The Road Warrior”.

That being said, don’t expect the same experience. Sure, Page plays a similar character. She’s smart, sarcastic and sassy. However, the film is more about the dysfunction in her family as a whole – resulting from the death of her mother some time ago. The real main character is the father, played by Dennis Quaid. (Anyone else immediately think of “Total Recall” every time someone says Quaid?)

He has slipped into a self-absorbed malaise, so intent on feeling intellectually superior to his college students and peers that he sees little else but his own mental reflection. To help him out of his shell, enter Thomas Haden Church perfectly cast as the loser brother, always needing a little help getting by. He brings some much needed life and energy, into a household that’s been suffocating for so long in this melancholy haze. To round it all out, add in a love interest for Quaid in the form of Sarah Jessica Parker (I know, I know, just let it go for now, the film is done – they can’t recast) and an angry son (Ashton Holmes).

All of the actors (even Parker to some degree) are able to convey their character’s issues and buried, seething emotions fairly well. My problem isn’t necessarily with them, it’s with the script and direction. In attempting to portray this fractured family, the goal should be to explore each dynamic and come to some sort of closure. This doesn’t happen.

Only Quaid’s connections with his daughter and brother find a measure of peace, or resolution. The events surrounding the Quaid/Parker relationship are only concluded through a collection of photos shown during the end credits and the father/son angle never gets much more time than a commercial break.

Worse still for me was that for the first 75% of the film, it’s all about establishing the characters and their roles in the group. This should have been done in the first half at most; it isn’t until the very end that the conflicts come to a head and decide what direction everyone will take. This created a rushed feeling for the end of the film that was at odds with the pacing set up from the beginning.

Now, I don’t mean to knock this film too much. I did enjoy it, especially the scenes with Church and Page. Their tangled mess of an uncle/niece relationship was the most interesting and while it too could have used more resolution, at least it gave me a place to connect with the characters. I’ve got a mental block on Parker (aside from “Flight of the Navigator” and “Footloose”) and although Quaid does a nice job of playing the arrogant, melancholy widower, there just wasn’t enough in the script to really explore everything that’s there.

Any one of the relationships could have made an entire film, if done right. Having all of them put together created a fragmented, unbalanced story that left me wanting more. Oddly enough, even after dogging the film as much as I have, I’m going to give “Smart People” a 3 out of 5.

That’s partially due to how much I like most of the actors in the film and also because I should be a little lenient considering I spent the entire screening listening to two, vapid young women making their judgmental comments on such important issues as how much they care (or don’t care) for the sight of Thomas Haden Church’s naked posterior. It’s a good thing I’m not their friend, I’d have to kick them out of my apartment anytime I watched a film.