Written by Laura Wylie
September 19, 2008
In the previews on TV, this movie looks rather appealing. It appears to have interesting roles played by high quality actors with loads of wit, charm and humor sprinkled throughout the film. Needless to say I had high expectations for this movie, especially since it looked intelligent, yet funny. I regret to report that my expectations were not entirely met at the end of the film. The movie left me tired and wanting back the two hours I spent watching it—in all its depressing entirety.
Smart People brings intriguing roles to the big screen with big name actors to breathe life into them. Dennis Quaid plays Lawrence Whetherhold, an English professor at Carnegie Mellon. Lawrence’s physical appearance reflects his inner complex of issues. He fails to see the point of grooming his hair, taking care of his body and updating his wardrobe. If you’re wanting to see Smart People because of your teenage lust for Dennis Quaid, think again. Lawrence Whetherhold is not Quaid’s most attractive character. He’s pretty unattractive. But it’s hard to blame him when he is struggling with the recent death of his wife, his inability to be liked by the other faculty, and his narcissistic ways.
Lawrence does have one good thing going for him in his life during the first part of the movie. He has two children—Vanessa and James—played by Ellen Page and Ashton Holmes.
Vanessa is an intellect, a natural brain. She is the leader of many academic clubs, has multiple colleges recruiting her and has a strong bond with her brainy father. She is a full blown die hard, and feels it is her obligation to cook, clean and fill the role her mother did before she passed away. Vanessa, though very intelligent and hard working, has flaws to which she is oblivious. Throughout the film we see how Vanessa’s mental strength prevents her from growing socially. However, we see Vanessa’s transformation from socially inept nerd to friendly nerd (you can’t expect the world to stop turning) by the end of the film, which allows the audience to be more connected with her character.
James is a little more outgoing than Vanessa and attends the university his father, Lawrence, works at. James and Lawrence have the oh-so awkward father son relationship that has obviously been damaged at some point in their lives. Lawrence doesn’t fully believe in James’ capabilities and James wants nothing to do with his father. It seems as though blood is the only thing in common they share. But don’t fret! By the end of the film we see the beginning of a relationship repair between father and son, which leaves the audience reflecting on their own broken relationships.
Relationships are always an interesting plot of their own in movies and in real life. The relationship between one of Lawrence’s former students, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, and Lawrence is no exception to this. Dr. Janet Hartigan, the former student, reunites with Lawrence when he unexpectedly makes a trip to the hospital. Dr. Hartigan informs Lawrence that she used to be one of his students, and always had a school girl crush on him. It’s not an uncommon thing to say, but seeing Lawrence and Dr. Hartigan seriously date feels weird and wrong. He’s visibly not stable enough for a relationship and she is gorgeous, sexy and has the world at her fingertips. They couldn’t be more wrong for each other. But their passion for literature, and debating literature, brought them together and impaired their dating judgment.
As Dr. Hartigan and Lawrence become closer, Lawrence starts to come out of his shell a little more. However, Vanessa feels angered by this new woman, and begins to resent her father for letting go and trying to move on. The once seemingly perfect father daughter relationship is now tarnished and jaded. Throughout the rest of the movie we see hearts being healed and relationships being repaired.
All in all, the movie wasn’t what I had expected, but that doesn’t mean it was terrible. It was a good story, but could have used some of that infamous Hollywood spice about half way through to help the plot move a little faster.
Although the story line is generic, it was carried out in a unique way. The characters were well developed and played by the appropriate actors. Only Ellen Page could have pulled off Vanessa’s character, and the directors knew that. Because the directors were able to match character personalities with actor personalities to a tee, the movie in this aspect was a great success.
I would have rated Smart People better in this category had the movie had just a little more “umph” to it. It lost my attention half way through because of the very generic story line and range of characters. Had there been just a tad (only a little teeny bit) bit of Hollywood spice in the middle, I think that would have solved a lot of the attention loss issues.