Monday, January 26, 2009

“What’s it like to be stupid?”


If I had to describe Smart People in one word, it would be "generic." It is one of those self-consciously quirky pseudo-indie dramedies, populated by self-consciously quirky characters, who have self-consciously serious conversations peppered with overly clever dialogue. It's not unwatchable, by any means, but it is definitely something that you have seen before. Its familiarity is probably its best asset, lending the movie a nonthreatening sense of comfort.

Smart People follows how a series of events following a head trauma induced seizure changes everyone's lives (at first for the worse, but then for the better). Dennis Quad plays Lawrence Wetherhold, a curmudgeon of an English professor at Carnegie Mellon, who is taken to the Emergency Room after hitting his head while breaking out of the campus impound lot. There he meets Dr. Janet Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker), a former student of his, who informs him that due to the fact that he suffered a trauma-induced seizure after his fall, his license would have to be revoked for six months. This prompts the arrival of Lawrence's ne'er-do-welll, lay about adopted brother Chuck (Thomas Hayden Church), who invites himself to stay with Lawrence and act as his chauffeur. Add in Lawrence's two children, the over-achieving, politically conservative, book-smart, socially inept Vanessa (Ellen Page), and the willfully distant, bitter, poetry-writing James (Ashton Holmes), and you have the makings for some quirky family indie drama.

Lawrence, a widower, starts dating Janet. Chuck makes it his mission to get the 17 year old Vanessa to act her age, that is to say, he talks her into smoking pot and getting her drunk. James basically shows up now and again to point out how miserable everyone is, and how Lawrence is so self-involved that he has no idea what's going on in his own family. With the exception of James, who is probably the least fleshed-out character in the movie, the characters' relationships do evolve in some interesting ways. Vanessa masks her own feelings about her father dating again by becoming over protective of him. There is less a sense that she is upset that her mother is being replaced, but more that she herself feels replaced, long having taken on the role of a surrogate housewife. Vanessa's relationship with Chuck takes a somewhat interesting turn, just as it looks to be another free-spirited slob rescues square from button-down boringness story. Unfortunately, Lawrence and Janet's relationship, arguably the main storyline of the movie, is probably the most boring. There's no real emotion progression. Basically, some stuff happens, and that's about it.

Smart People isn't a bad movie. All the main actors (even Parker) are serviceable at their worst, legitimately charming at their best. The directing is competent. The writing is fine, even if it is overly generic. I can't think of a situation in which I'd recommend watching this. I guess if you're looking for an easy movie, a way to turn off your brain and watch a very middle of the road movie, it might do the trick.

4 comments:

Brad said...

Hmm...you are doing a public good here by weeding out this shit.

On a positive note:

I went to the gym tonight to go running. Lately I've been running on treadmills instead of the track upstairs. Treadmills are kind of new to me, so they're not too annoying or anything, and you can work up a pretty decent sweat on them in a way that you can't on the track since the track is surrounded by enormous windows and it's in the enormous room. You never quite warm up.

Anyway, the treadmills face a bunch of fancy flat-screen TVs and guess which movie was on AMC while I was running?

Road House. Road House!

It was the best run ever.

Scott said...

Oh my, Roadhouse? I'll bet you worked up a nice sweat!

Oddly enough, Molly and I had a recent conversation about Swayze's acting career, and it naturally involved a lot of talk about Roadhouse.

Scott said...

Oh yes, and I have been watching some shit lately. And I certainly wasn't surprised when 30 Days of Night and Smart People both kind of sucked. I watched them for free online, so thankfully I didn't pay money for them.

Good thing the movie I'm getting from Netflix this afternoon is pulling a solid 32% on both Rottentomatoes.com and Metacritic.com Repo! The Genetic Opera, here I come!

Brad said...

Oh my...