The characters, plot and themes of Smart People are reminiscent of the clever, funny The Squid and the Whale that came out a couple of years ago—a mix of an intellectual parent or two, hyperverbal children, the academic drive to publish, and family dysfunction. While my friend and I laughed throughout the movie, it was mostly due to the comic relief of a character played by Thomas Haden Church. Ellen Page (the naturally hyperverbal actress from Juno), does her part as well, but it’s hard to buy that Dennis Quaid, who plays a widower and unfeeling academic with shaggy eyebrows who shuffles around while presumably wearing a prosthetic stomach, could attract one of his former student played by Sarah Jessica Parker. She may be one of the smart people, but she’s not blind.
Other flaws include underdeveloped characters, only the tiniest of character growth, and a couple scenes that seemed rudderless. But. Two scenes were brilliant. The first comes after the prof discovers that his brother and daughter have cleaned out the closet of his wife who’s been dead for years and donated her clohtes to Goodwill. The next scene cuts to him roaming the aisles of Goodwill with a shopping cart, scouring the racks in an effort to buy back his wife’s clothes.
Anyone who’s been on a bad date can relate to the other memorable scene: Dennis Quaid’s character and his former student (Sarah Jessica Parker, who’s now a doctor) are on their first dinner date. His bombastic treatise on literature has taken them through to dessert and she’s had enough. “Forty-five minutes,” she says. He stops and looks puzzled; she explains that it’s been 45 minutes since she last uttered a word because he’s been prattling on oblivious to her presence. It’s a tactic I’ll no doubt have the opportunity to employ on future dates.
So, all in all, a mixed bag. It’s not bad; it’s just that if you’re gonna make a movie so similar to another, it should obliterate the original. Rent The Squid and the Whale and laugh at the uber-pretentiousness while knowing you made a smart choice.