Actors: Dennis Quaid, Thomas Haden Church, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ellen Page, Ashton Holmes
Directors: Noam Murro
Run Time: 95 minutes
Smart People is a great dramedy--a mixture of comedy and drama. It goes for the Smart Laugh, not the Big Laugh. Mark Poirier, the son of a MIT professor, wrote a Smart script, and Smart Director Noam Murro very smartly cast some of the smartest actors around: Ellen Page, Thomas Haden Church, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Dennis Quaid. I loved it, because I am also very Smart, but it didn't do as well at the box office or with the critics (except it was the Number One DVD at Netflix for a while) as it deserved.
I think the problem with this movie is that like the characters, Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid) and his daughter Vanessa Wetherhold (Ellen Page), it doesn't suffer fools gladly. Thus, for a large portion of the audience, it is over their heads, and they feel like it is condescending, supercilious, and they feel patronized. As Lawrence's adopted brother, Chuck Wetherhold (Thomas Haden Church) says of Vanessa: "You're a monster!"And that is an understatement. In another scene she says to her father,
Theresa Sternbridge practically runs a soup kitchen and she's always seen posing in photos with crack babies and dying, old, crusty ladies. And do you know why? She scored in the 45th percentile on her SAT. People like you and me don't need to compensate."Although Chuck sees that Vanessa, and her role model father, are both monsters, in spite or because of their intelligence, he still loves them and tries to help. Did I mention that Chuck is a screw up, down on his luck, and an opportunist who sees a win/win situation for himself when his brother has a seizure and cannot drive. He will have a place to stay, and 3 squares, for driving his brother around--albeit very unreliably.Though he is not the greatest driver, he really has a lot of intelligence about people. For instance, at a Christmas Dinner, where Vanessa's brother James Wetherhold (Ashton Holmes) complains about the rubbery ham (Vanessa used a recipe downloaded from the Internet written in the archaic French of Louis the XIV, and translated by her, maybe not as well as she thinks (a great example of her over achiever approach to cooking); when former student and now doctor Janet Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker) drops in unexpectedly
Chuck explains "These children haven't been properly parented in many years. They're practically feral. That's why I was brought in. To keep them from killing each other."All of the characters have a story arc, where they have an epiphany, and reach a greater awareness; but the Father/Daughter dynamic between the professor and his precocious progeny is perhaps the most complicated. He takes her for granted and is even less involved with his son James, while she idolizes him and emulates his self absorbed and condescending approach to other, less worthy, people.