|DIRECTOR: Noam Murro
||RELEASE DATE: April 11, 2008
|CAST: Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ellen Page, Thomas Haden Church|
Was the movie made by smart people, too?
Today, I had the opportunity to see Smart People at my university's Wymen's Centre. I has completely forgotten about seeing the trailer for this film long ago, vowing to see it when it came out on DVD and subsequently forgetting about it since its release in 2008. So when I Googled the video and watched the trailer, I was reminded of all the reasons it had intrigued me. Firstly, despite its big-name stars, the film has a distinctly indie feel that is becoming very popular now. Secondly, the story centred on the life of Professor Lawrence Wetherhold, so I figured the academic life would be fresh territory and more personally relatable to me than most films targeted at my demographic about kids who bungee jump with goats and such. Thirdly, one of the big name actors was Ellen Page, who I find to be particularly refreshing and complex, so I thought for sure I would enjoy this film.
The film does a great job of building up some rich characters. Firstly, Wetherhold is a grouchy professor who loves poetry but has been leading a hollow life since the death of his wife. Secondly, there is his troublemaker mooch brother, Chuck, whom I found to be an interesting and amusing character. Of course, the role Ellen Page played was my favourite. She was Dr. Wetherhold's overachieving daughter, Vanessa, who was incredible in academia, basically ran the household, and was always dressed in the smartest vintage threads. Of course, lying beneath this incredible achievement were plenty of daddy issues that kept things interesting. Two less colourful characters were James, Vanessa's university student brother, who could have been edited out of the film easily and basically illustrated Dr. Wetherhold's failure as a parent, and Dr. Weatherhold's girlfriend, Dr. Janet Hartigan, who played an important role in the plot but behaved in ways that were erratic and inconsistent. I was disappointed that Sarah Jessica Parker was unable to hold together a personality for this character; perhaps there are scripts you simply cannot work around.
This film also seemed to suffer from Napoleon Dynamite Syndrome: after setting up colourful characters, good humour, and an engaging mood, the plot that was offered was mundane and disjointed, giving the film an anticlimactic feel. Such everyday events as having a seizure or getting a book published might be interesting on a personal level for individuals, but they hardly warrant making a movie. I realize many people enjoy these films that are about personal development in the face of life's harsh realities, but I have yet to gain an appreciation for this kind of film. I also felt many subplots didn't really tie into the body of the film, apart from in order to develop character. For example, Wetherhold's son, James, has a poem published without telling his father. The fact that he does not share this achievement with his father is supposed to demonstrate how poor their relationship is, but then the poem is hardly mentioned again apart from being a symbol of the son's relationship with his father.
On a certain level, I really enjoyed this movie. I cared about that characters and wanted to know them better. But on another level, it was precisely because of this rich character development that the movie left me feeling so dissatisfied. I wanted to see how these rich characters would survive different challenges to their lives. Smart People might have made a great setup for a sitcom, but as a film it was simply anticlimactic.