Smart people

Being a new director is always hard. Critics and movie buffs often tear apart films from new directors while looking for the “next best thing.” However, rookie director Noam Murro shouldn’t worry about his first feature film; “Smart People” is a quaint and charming movie that puts Murro on the path to huge success. Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid) is a Victorian Literature professor at Carnegie Mellon University whose work and the untimely death of his wife has left him bitter and unhappy. Often taking his frustrations out on his students and children, Lawrence holds extremely pessimistic views on the world. One night, when his car is towed, Lawrence furiously tries to climb the fence of the impound lot, only to fall to the ground and suffer a seizure. Lawrence is treated at the local hospital by a former student, Janet Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker). After being released from the hospital, Lawrence and Janet begin dating. All the while, Lawrence’s adopted, deadbeat brother, Chuck (Thomas Haden Church), begins to spend time with his uptight niece, Vanessa (Ellen Page). Driven by her desire to be an intellectual, Vanessa rarely breaks the rules and only begins to experience teenage fun when she spends time with her middle-aged uncle. As Lawrence enters the dating pool once again and Vanessa tries breaking the rules, everyone begins to realize how the smartest people are often miserable. Big names like Dennis Quaid and Sarah Jessica Parker certainly bring a lot of attention to this fairly small budget film. As an extremely dysfunctional couple, Janet and Lawrence get a huge portion of the screen time and attention, which is largely a good thing. It’s nice to see Quaid back on track with fantastic acting after starring in a string of bad movies. Quaid doesn’t just play the bitter teacher, but he becomes it. His physical acting is so spot-on that his character seems real (which, by the way, is no easy task). Parker does come across a bit flatter. She borders on being one-dimensional by only showing Janet’s frustrated side. Nevertheless, she is interesting, especially when she shares the screen with Quaid. Surprisingly, the best acting comes from the two supporting actors, Ellen Page and Thomas Haden Church. Both deliver their lines with razor sharp wit, and their humor and chemistry on screen is definitely unique. And, by the time the end of the movie comes, you’ll find yourself wanting more of Page and less of Parker. Perhaps one of the most impressive things about “Smart People” is its script. Written by another rookie, Mark Poirier, the script is just what it promises to be: smart. Everyone in the movie considers him or herself to be “smart.” But, the movie asks: is it really worth it? Should we be miserable forever just to obtain knowledge? While it might not be the most original question to ask, the script develops it in a unique and interesting way. Plus, the added comedy evens out the sometimes-heavy subject material. Overall, “Smart People’s” script is an impressive accomplishment for anyone, let alone somebody new to the business. “Smart People” is an intelligent film in many ways; it’s thought provoking and very entertaining. However, it’s quite clear that a lot of substance was removed in the editing process, and some big, important events are made somewhat insignificant because of over-editing. While the movie spends a good half of its time setting up the story, the climax and resolution are given little attention. For a relatively short film (95 minutes), the director could have added in a few more scenes to give proper closure. Instead, you come out of the theater feeling slightly empty, waiting for something more to reveal itself after the credits. For such a clever film, its surprising, and somewhat disappointing, that it ends on such a flat note. “Smart People” isn’t perfect, but it is noticeably well done for Murro’s first attempt at the silver screen. The cast delivers their perfectly scripted lines with brilliance. But, where the actors push the movie forward, the editing stops the momentum. “Smart People” certainly isn’t action-packed, but it’s worth the time to watch it. It’s a charming look at miserably smart people. Grade: 4+