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It’s okay to populate your movie with largely unlikable characters. It’s okay for those characters to not grow likable in any way by the end of the movie. It’s even okay to keep your unlikable characters in a reasonably family friendly atmosphere. What isn’t okay, at least not to me, is to fashion your unlikable characters on other artist’s unlikable characters, and to assume that making them do good things in the end will some how make them magically morph into likable characters. What we’ve got here are a bunch of unlikable characters pretending to be likable, and a bland, made for television plot characterized by a string of ‘quirky’ events set to mawkish music and emotions.

Smart People
In a stunning turn of originality Dennis Quaid plays Lawrence Wetherhold, a nebbish and self absorbed literary professor who refuses to get over his dead wife. Sarah Jessica Parker plays Janet, an ex-student of Lawrence’s who works as a lonely E.R doctor. Shockingly, Janet and Lawrence meet up in the E.R. and ignite a depressing pseudo relationship in hopes of finding something ‘real’ in this world of ours. Meanwhile, Larry’s straight laced, young republican daughter, Alex P. Keaton, I mean Vanessa (played by the impeccably dry Ellen Page, attempting to wring every ounce of goodwill she earned with me in Hard Candy and Juno), and his loser brother Chuck (played by Thomas Haden Church, who makes it through the film relatively unscathed) bond, finding common ground despite their stereotyped political differences.

Writer Mark Poirier (who apparently grew up in the same home town as me) drags his characters through all the usual faux-independent film gutters, and they all come out with the same experiences every other dysfunctional movie family ever had. Vanessa is uncomfortable with her father dating anyone that isn’t her mother, and feels alone in the prison of intellectual separation she’s built for herself. Lawrence is entirely socially awkward after years of crippling, self-centred depression, and Janet is totally confused by her emotions. Chuck’s consistent sarcasm is a bit exhausting and entirely expected, but some of his lines are funny enough to keep the film at least roughly amusing, otherwise it’s a dull mess of a film with effective enough performances.

Smart People

Video


This is not one of Disney’s more impressive Blu-ray releases, but it isn’t the fault of the disc’s producers, it’s just a generally flat looking film. Details are sharp for the most part, though pinpoint focus doesn’t appear to be a great concern, so you aren’t likely to find yourself blown away. Generally the film is pretty soft, and I was a little surprised at the fine grain that affects the majority of indoor sequences. Noise is a slight issue throughout all the film’s natural colours, which becomes a greater issue around edges and in low-lit sequences. Blacks are dense, and pretty fully separated from the rest of the pallet, but whites are a bit on the red side.

Audio


I’m allergic to maudlin soundtracks, and this one had me sneezing my sinuses out. The use of solo acoustic guitar just pushed my buttons all through out the film, and the singer/songwriter moments didn’t help. But the effect on the 5.1 soundtrack is very natural and warm, so the maudlin guitar players sound like they’re sitting in your living room and playing their sob story just for you. This is a very quiet film, all the character’s speak in low tones, the music never buzzes above a trickle, and the world around the characters is possibly a post-apocalyptic waste land, because even the raucous college campus plays just above a whisper. This isn’t an impressive mix, but besides a few inconsistencies in dialogue levels I noticed no problems.

Smart People

Extras


The extras begin with a largely silent commentary track with director Noam Murro and writer Mark Poirier. The track is low key and relatively humourless, and the commentators tend to ramble on the same subjects for too long (not to mention a lot of on-screen narration). There isn’t a lot of obvious preparation made here, and most of the discussion is quite obvious, but it’s not entirely without its informative bits.

‘The Smartest People’ is a sixteen and a half minute making of featurette featuring on camera interviews with the director, producers, writer, and actors, set to scenes and stills from the film, and a little behind the scenes footage. It’s a fluffy featurette, filled with textbook responses to textbook questions, but it does cover the making of bases. It’s followed by two minutes of bloopers, and ten minutes of deleted scenes. I’d like to thank Murro for deleting these scenes.

Smart People

Overall


This is the perfect time to recommend a better film that shares very many commonalities with Smart People. If you’re thinking about seeing Smart People I’d suggest a rental, then an immediate purchase of Curtis Hanson’s Wonder Boys, staring Michael Douglas, Toby Maguire, Frances McDormand, and Robert Downey, Jr.. Wonder Boys is also about a gloomy Carnegie Mellon English professor trying to write a book while dealing with a mopey older child that discovers the joys of drinking (though not his son), an irresponsible acquaintance (though not his brother), and a difficult romance (though not with a younger woman). It features original twists on traditional characters, genuine drama and comedy, and a much better low-key soundtrack.


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