Friday, January 24, 2014

Smart People (2008) [R] ***

Professor Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid) is an English literature professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Since his wife died nine years ago, Lawrence has withdrawn into himself, cutting off emotional contact with his family members, students and faculty, and creating a hard, protective shell that is frequently interpreted as boorish, uncaring, self-centered arrogance. He barely communicates with his brilliant high-school senior daughter Vanessa (Ellen Page) or his college-age son James (Ashton Holmes), and wants nothing to do with his street-smart, bohemian, adopted younger brother Chuck (Thomas Haden Church). However, when a concussion and seizure lands Lawrence in the hospital, bringing him back into contact with Dr. Janet Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker) a former student who had a crush on him, the stage is set for him to begin to emerge from his shell, and reconnect emotionally with those around him.

Each one of these five people is in some way damaged or simply lacking in social skills, and as we watch them carom off one another like billiard balls set in motion on a billiard table, we realize that they aren't so much malicious as simply unfeeling, uncaring or emotionally stunted. The screenplay feels as though it was adapted from a stage play, and while there's a great deal of acting talent assembled in this independent production, it isn't clear how much we can learn from these people beyond the observation that sometimes the smartest people have the most to learn. In tone, Smart People is very reminiscent of films like Good Will Hunting, Finding Forrester, The Wonder BoysChaos Theory and Feast of Love, as well as the popular TV program The Big Bang Theory, which is all about four nerdish scientists who work at CalTech. In any case, if your expectations are not too high, and you enjoy conversation-rich, character-driven comedy/dramas set in an educational environment, you will probably find Smart People rewarding. 

Labels: college, comedy, drama, romance    
Internet Movie Database    
Metacritic 57/100   
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=56, viewers=60)    

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