"Smart People" is, as indie films go, an easy layup of a picture. That doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad film, but it's one that has an easy appeal for a wide audience and an excellent cast that does very good work. The only problem: it's a movie with little in the way of surprises, going over ground that has been gone over many a time before. The film focuses on Carnegie Mellon English professor Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid), who's a grumpy jerk to just about everyone he meets.
When Lawrence injures himself trying to get his car back, he ends up in the hospital being looked after by a former student (Sarah Jessica Parker) who's always had feelings for the professor. There's also his smart (yet very chilly) daughter, Vanessa (Ellen Page), who has to be convinced to see her father in the hospital. Rounding out the family are Lawrence's resentful son, James (Ashton Holmes), who's upset his father hasn't taken more of an interest in his life.
Unfortunately for Lawrence, the one person he needs to rely on after his injury is the one he least respects: his adopted, rather aimless brother, Chuck (Thomas Hayden Church) - who moves in after he agrees to be his driver for the time being. Chuck, meanwhile, starts to take an interest in Vanessa and Lawrence - in his own awkward way - tries to start a romance with Janet (Parker). However, as one might expect, both complicated relationships certainly go over some bumps in the road.
Again, the problem isn't in the performances, as Page follows up "Juno" with a compelling performance as an intelligent young woman who finds herself with a lot to learn about life beyond books. Quaid is also excellent as a depressed, irritable man who is finally becoming well aware of the hurt within his fellow family members. Church also provides a very good supporting performance, but the real surprise here is Sarah Jessica Parker, who I haven't liked in a role in ages. She not only has good chemistry with Quaid, but creates a character that feels real and remains likable.
"Smart People" is the directorial debut of Noam Murro and screenwriting debut of Mark Poirer, and while the material is somewhat formulaic and the low-key tone can sometimes cause the movie to drag in spots (how this was marketed as something of a comedy is beyond me, as there's few laughs, nor was the intent seemingly to make a comedy) there are still things to like here. Murro handles a terrific cast of big names impressively, and there isn't a bad or even mediocre performance in the bunch.
Overall, "Smart People" has its moments and the cast is fine, but the material just remains overly familiar and the overly low-key feel ends up working against the film. A rental recommendation for fans of the actors.
VIDEO: "Smart People" is presented by Miramax in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Presentation quality is just fine, as the low-key visuals of the film look crisp and detailed on this enjoyable transfer. While some minimal edge enhancement occasionally gets in the way, the presentation otherwise looked clean and clear, with no print flaws or pixelation.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is quite subdued, with very slight use of the surrounds for a few instances of minor ambience and score. Otherwise, this is a purely dialogue-driven presentation, and dialogue remains crisp and clear throughout.
EXTRAS: An amusing gag reel (Page to Church after he screws up a line: "You got nominated for an Oscar?"), commentary from the writer & director, "making of" featurette and 9 deleted scenes.
Final Thoughts: Overall, "Smart People" has its moments and the cast is fine, but the material just remains overly familiar and the overly low-key feel ends up working against the film. A rental recommendation for fans of the actors. The DVD presentation offers good audio/video quality, as well as a decent set of supplemental features.
The Film B-