Rated R; Directed by Noam Murro; Starring Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Thomas Haden Church, Ellen Page
Smart People is a movie that aims for smartness, but only achieves a smart gloss on a clichéd plot. The film does give us a smart cast who make the most of the clichés, but they can’t overcome the Point A to Point B kind of plotting.
Dennis Quaid plays Lawrence Wetherhold, an arrogant, bitter professor, the type of person who always rudely takes two parking spots instead of one. Putting up enough emotional barriers to keep everyone away, things begin to change for him when he finds himself unable to drive for a few months. Luckily, Lawrence’s goof-off brother Chuck (Thomas Haden Church) happens to be in town and can drive him around . . . as long as Chuck remembers. Lawrence also kindles a relationship with an attractive doctor, who was once a student of his. Janet Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker) not only has to deal with Lawrence’s tendencies to play the windbag professor, but she is also pitted against Lawrence’s daughter, Vanessa (Juno’s Ellen Page), the super-achieving, arrogant, Young Republican.
There is so much good about the characters. Dennis Quaid makes a wonderfully grumpy professor and Sarah Jessica Parker makes the most of a role that seems underwritten. Thomas Haden Church brings most of the laughs, and Ellen Page has another smart character to showcase her talent.
It just seems a waste to watch the characters force themselves to meet the script’s needs. I was puzzled over Lawrence’s personality change, why did it happen? Well, the script told him to change. The same with Janet’s attraction to Lawrence – why? Smart People has so much potential, but it underachieves.