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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Smart Is as Smart Does
by Betty Jo Tucker

Sometimes the most highly intelligent individuals do the dumbest things. Smart People, a dysfunctional family comedy starring Dennis Quaid, Ellen Page, Sarah Jessica Parker and Thomas Haden Church, drives home that point in spades. Quaid and Page stand out in this excellent cast as a father and daughter who may have genius IQ’s -- but rate below zero in terms of their human relations skills.

Quaid (In Good Company) simply transforms himself into the character of Lawrence Wetherhold, a self-absorbed English professor who knows everything about the subject he teaches yet nothing about his students, including their names. To describe Lawrence as anti-social would be the understatement of the decade. He stays away from department meetings, uses all kinds of subterfuges to avoid one-on-one sessions with his students, and barely talks with his son (Ashton Holmes) and daughter (Ellen Page). Because Lawrence still mourns the death of his beloved wife -- even though it happened years ago -- we can’t help feeling some sympathy for him regardless of his misanthropic behavior. Page excels as Vanessa, Lawrence’s over-achieving 17-year-old daughter, and endows this young lady with a haughty attitude to match her sharp tongue. Vanessa’s main ambition involves scoring high on the SAT test. It's hard to believe she even resents being called to the Emergency Room when her father has an accident. Yes, she obviously loves him, but she’s rapidly on her way to becoming just like her dad.             

Happily, change is on the way for both Lawrence and Vanessa. Into their lives come Dr. Janet Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker), the ER physician who treats Lawrence for head trauma resulting from a fall, and Chuck Wetherhold (Thomas Haden Church), Lawrence’s down-and-out but more social “adopted brother.” After considerable thought about the problems involved, Janet falls for Lawrence and tries to help him love again. And, after seeing how lonely Vanessa is, Chuck introduces her to the real world -- but not without complicated consequences.

Although Parker (Sex and the City) and Church (Sideways) deliver fine performances here, Smart People belongs to Quaid and Page. They seem to lose themselves in their roles. Quaid’s unusual physical appearance -- beard and all -- will probably surprise his fans, and Page sheds her juvenile Juno image to portray a very different young woman. Ironically, high-school student Juno definitely seems much smarter, at least about people, than wannabe brainiac Vanessa. 

Thoughtfully directed by newcomer Noam Murro from Mark Jude Poirier’s clever script, Smart People emphasizes the value of communication with those around us, especially our loved ones. It also serves as a warning about how being completely self-centered can result in missing out on the important things in life. 

DVD features include deleted scenes, interviews with filmmakers and cast, bloopers/outtakes, and feature commentary by director Noam Murro and writer Mark Jude Poirier.

(Released by Miramax and rated “R” for profanity, nudity and sexual situations.)

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