Smart People
Director: Noam Murro
Writer: Mark Poirier
Producers: Michael Costigan, Bridget Johnson, Michael London, Bruna Papandrea
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Ellen Page, Sarah Jessica Parker, Thomas Haden Church, Christine Lahti, Ashton Holmes
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 95 min
read my spoiler disclaimer

reviewed by Andrew James
      After the huge success of Juno and the oncoming likely success of The Tracey Fragments (with even a pseudo-cult following of Hard Candy bringing about its revival), Miss Ellen Page is very obviously on her way to the top (if she's not already considered to be there). But lightning striking gold three times in a row is pretty rare - and for it to strike a fourth time is damn near impossible. Yes, everyone has their clunkers; and even though there's some real effort being shown here, this is definitely one of those times when an actress should've backed away.

      Page plays seventeen year-old Vanessa. She "too" bright that makes her one of the most unlikeable and smug girls you're ever likely to meet. Probably contributing to her ill-nature is the genes from her father; himself quite a grumpy intellect (Quaid). When Vanessa's father has a minor seizure, he's ordered by his doctor (Sarah Jessica Parker) and the state to cease driving for six months. Enter Chuck, the adopted, dead-beat brother to help take care of some of the driving responsibilities. So now what we've got is an extremely dysfunctional family unit just ripe for comic one-liners and a happy, moral lesson we can all learn something from. Gag.

      It's not the film is horrible. It's not. It's just not good. It's one of the most "play-it-safe" films I've ever seen, which never bothers to take any kind of chances and hence, falls completely flat and ends up having no point whatsoever.

      The performances are all well intentioned here and actually show quite a strong heartbeat. Unfortunately the script calls for some of the most unclever dialogue - the exact opposite of what I didn't like about Juno. But going from the bad end of the spectrum to the other is not necessarily an improvement. It becomes totally generic and neutral. The sad thing is that there seemed to be some great potential hiding in there somewhere. Watching Smart People was like looking at a Salvador Dali covered with a gray sheet.

      As I said, not a horrible movie. Thomas Haden Church's humor definitely helps things along and Ellen Page shines pretty brightly too. But again, the problem is just that there was no where to go. The jokes were funny, but they didn't mean anything. In some cases they were so arbitrarily thrown in for no reason that I found myself scratching my head more than I found smiling. But to be fair, there are some good one-liners and quirky expressions that set the crowd off a couple of times.

      The story itself is fairly predictable and though it thinks about leaping off the tracks from time to time, decides to play it safe just as it looks like something interesting might be about to happen. If you've seen any number of romantic comedies or family friendly dramas, you can guess how this one will end up.

      So never was I surprised, angry, upset, unsettled, interested, enlightened, joyous or even depressed. The film is only 95 minutes but just seemed to drag on and on making it feel over two hours in length. As much as I've bashed it here, I wouldn't necessarily tell you to avoid Smart People, just be aware that it's pretty much 90 minutes of junk food for the brain. Nothing compelling or fascinating, just a bunch of well-seasoned actors doing their thing and creating a few laughs here and there. Overall, a pretty ho-hum experience in the theater.

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