“Smart People” is a smart comedy featuring more of the same from “Juno” star Ellen Page. Her wit is razor sharp as she grapples with a whole new set of problems that life has thrown her way. “Smart People” tells the story of a curmudgeonly English professor named Lawrence Wetherhold is played by Dennis Quaid. Lawrence is the kind of professor that college students have nightmares about. He is overly critical, his grading procedures are totally unfair, the workload is ridiculous and, worst of all, he’s a failed writer.
However, it is not just Lawrence’s students who dislike him, but his fellow professors as well. He also has the irritating habit of parking his beat up old car across three parking spaces wherever he goes. Lawrence is a stern and stodgy as they come and so is his daughter Vanessa, played by Ellen Page.
Vanessa is a teenaged version of her father, right down to the drab colors that she wears. She’s a member of the Young Republicans and assumes the role of mother from her own deceased mother. Vanessa also has a bit of a wild streak that is bought out when her Uncle Chuck, played by Thomas Haden Church shows up looking for a handout of two from his stepbrother.
Vanessa and Chuck hit it off immediately as he teaches her to stop and enjoy life periodically. The last member of the family is James, played by Ashton Holmes, Vanessa’s older brother who is away at the same college at which Lawrence teaches. He inherited his mother’s creativity and is an aspiring poet, but he is often overlooked by his father.
The plot of the film takes off when Lawrence injures himself trying to recover a briefcase from his car, which has been impounded due to the whole three space thing. He is sent to the hospital where he meets Dr. Janet Hartigan, played by Sarah Jessica Parker.
Lawrence is immediately drawn to Hartigan who proves herself to be just as intellectual, if not more so, then he and also engages in a verbal toe to toe with Vanessa. Before long, each character’s world is thrown into chaos as they attempt to deal with life’s inevitable curveballs as well as beginning to let go of the past.
Dennis Quaid will get under your skin as the smarmy Lawrence Wetherhold and initially you won’t like him very much. Most college students have had professors like him before, professors who take out their own personal shortcomings on their students and who hold them up to impossible standards.
The thing that Quaid does so well is that he makes you forget that you are watching him act at points and just see the professor that you suffered through. Then, once we start to see the total picture of his character, we start to see some of those other professor’s possible motivating forces.
He makes his monster professor human and before long you can empathize with him. Ellen Page displays more of the biting wit and sarcasm that she perfected in “Juno” here but with a couple of more problems. As with Quaid, once we start seeing her whole personality, her actions begin to make much more sense and also become more relatable.
Church is just flat out likable as Lawrence’s loser stepbrother. He’s a nice guy whose heart is in the right place, but who just can’t seem to put all the pieces of his life together.
Parker does a solid job of trying to move past her “Sex and the City” role, but her character doesn’t seem as deep as the others with the exception of James, who is virtually ignored for long stretches of time.
First time director Noam Murro proves himself here with a unique visual style as he explores the world that these fascinating characters inhabit. The script was written by Mark Poirier, and is his debut as well. The characters are very deep and the movie is decently paced though parts in the middle do drag out too long. Overall it is an impressive debut for them both.
“Smart People” is a funny movie but it is really more of a “dramedy”. It won’t have you rolling in the aisles but if you appreciate smart comedy you will find plenty of it here.
Those who just want to see more of Ellen Page won’t be disappointed either because she turns in yet another strong performance. “Smart People” is a good movie not necessarily a “must see in theaters” but definitely worth a DVD rental.
Colin McGlinchey is a third-year majoring in English with a minor in journalism. He can be reached at CM646588@wcupa.edu.