Friday, April 11, 2008

Smart People

“You told me my paper was sophomoric. I was a freshman.”
“That’s not what sophomoric means.”

The basic premise of the film is that smart people can be dumb too. As premises go, it’s not exactly insightful.

Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid) is a grumpy professor of English literature who finds himself in need of assistance after an accident involving his car, the campus impound lot, and a fence. His children are both as miserable as he is (although the film is less sure why) including his Young Republican daughter Vanessa (Ellen Page) and his son (Ashton Holmes) who wants to be a poet. Enter Lawrence’s brother, by adoption, Chuck (Thomas Hayden Church) the free spirit and a former student, now doctor (Sarah Jessica Parker), to further stir the pot.

I know these characters; you know these characters. We’ve seen them in countless films. We’ve got the grump who learns to care. The uptight kid. The misunderstood kid. The smart and attractive woman entering their screwed-up world. And the dummy with more simple wisdom then all of them combined.

Ten-minutes into the film you’ll recognize the patterns and know exactly what will happen to each of these characters, what lessons they will learn, and how each will end the film happier than when it started.

Everything seems in place, but the film just seems empty. The acting is fine, though low-key, almost minimalistic in places, and the situations presented lend themselves to conflicts, discussions, and moments which are never capitalized on. The movie simply starts and then ends 95 minutes later without asking too much of itself or of the audience.

The Diagnosis
Smart People isn’t a bad film, Hollywood has made enough just like it that they have the pattern down. It’s simply a paint-by-the-number tale from a first time director and a first time writer which is afraid to color outside the lines.

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