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SMART PEOPLE (director: Noam Murro; screenwriter: Mark Jude Poirier; cinematographer: Toby Irwin; editors: Robert Frazen/Yana Gorskaya; music: Nuno Bettencourt; cast: Dennis Quaid (Lawrence Wetherhold), Sarah Jessica Parker (Dr. Janet Hartigan), Thomas Haden Church (Chuck Wetherhold), Ellen Page (Vanessa Wetherhold), Ashton Holmes (James Wetherhold), David Denman (William), Camille Mana (Missy), Richard John Walters (Parking Lot Attendant); Runtime: 94; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Bridget Johnson; Miramax Films; 2008)
“The film was one big tedious contrivance, but for trying so hard deserves a Gentleman’s C.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Commercial director Noam Murro debuts as a feature film director and stubs his toe. There was nothing smart enough in this bourgeois romantic comedy to take the turkey out of the oven. Though it throws around a few big words and mentions Tennison and Bleak House, as if they were badges of honor to get them admittance into the camp of serious dramedy and into the mind-set of its targeted bourgeois audience. Fiction writer Mark Jude Poirier, in his screenwriting debut, turns in a stale script desperately trying to capture the allure of Little Miss Sunshine and points out in its heavy handed message that smart people must deal with their stings of loneliness just like dummies have to deal with their stupidity, making them both fragile humans with gaps in their life to overcome. Its predictable story, that’s agonizingly lengthy and arid, tells about the humanization of a contentious, self-absorbed and pompous widowed poetry professor, Dr. Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid), a thoroughly unlikable intellectual egotist, who in the third act loses some of his smugness, finds love and becomes a mensch. It’s the kind of dysfunctional family drama where the deadbeat weed puffing moronic adopted middle-aged brother of the windbag smartypant’s professor, Chuck Wetherhold (Thomas Haden Church), is by far the smartest and most likable one in the film.

When the Carnegie Mellon professor Wetherhold takes a tumble climbing down from his college’s security parking lot fence, he receives a concussion brought on be a seizure and the ER doctor, Janet Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker), informs him that he won’t be able to drive for at least six months. His chip off the old block obnoxious and smugly robotic, Young Republican, sharp-tongued brainy high schol senior daughter Vanessa (Ellen Page) arranges for her layabout Uncle Chuck, someone her father detests, to come live in their house and act as chauffeur for free rent. The professor’s other son James (Ashton Holmes), an aspiring poet, lives in the college’s dorm and resents his asshole dad for ignoring him.

It turns out Janet had Wetherhold for a Victorian poetry course as a freshman and had a schoolgirl crush on him and still does even though he gave her a C on an essay she felt deserved better. The prof can’t recall his student, but they begin dating and as expected find that they love each other and try to deal with the emotional issues that keeps them apart.

The film was one big tedious contrivance, but for trying so hard deserves a Gentleman’s C.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”