In Noam Murro’s directing debut, Smart People, he proves that sometimes smart people don’t always make the smartest decisions.
This slower paced movie focuses more on character development rather than action, but because of its unique characters, it is nonetheless entertaining.
After experiencing a trauma-induced seizure, a self-involved professor, Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid), must re-evaluate his life and become more dependent on others. His doctor, Janet (Sarah Jessica Parker), who happens to be one of his forgotten students from years back, informs him that he is suspended from driving for six months.
Lawrence’s free-loading adopted brother, Chuck (Thomas Haden Church), comes to his rescue, much to his dismay. For Chuck, this is a “win-win” situation, because he gets to stay for free.
During his visit, Chuck tries to encourage Lawrence’s over-achieving teenage daughter, Vanessa (Ellen Page), to lighten up and pushes Lawrence, a widower, to pursue Janet as a love interest.
This film’s strongest element is its individually complex four main characters played by exceptional actors. It is hard to pick out just one of the leads because they all make their characters believable, comical and, at times, heartwarming.
Through these characters’ problems, the film plays with conventional relationship titles. In Lawrence’s relationships as a professor, his colleagues don’t understand him and he has a problem remembering past students. He treats his brother more like his chauffeur and refers to him as “adopted” with every opportunity he gets. Lawrence’s initial treatment of Janet, as a former student, is to lecture her rather than think of her as a love interest.
Vanessa acts too old for her age; she is more like a housewife than a daughter to her father, performing household duties and accepting the lack of acknowledgment from her father for her exceptional educational accomplishments.
Also, because of Chuck’s willingness to show Vanessa how to have a good time as a teenager, she, in a drunken stupor, tries to make a move on her adopted uncle as a love interest rather than an uncle because “he’s adopted, it doesn’t count.”
These confused definitions and blurred boundaries of relationships emphasize each character’s inability to properly relate to others.
Although each of the four main characters are interesting and well developed, the film seems to overlook the development needed by its supporting characters. The less talented college brother, James (Ashton Holmes), is a foil for Vanessa to look down on and is unappreciated by his father. He would seem to make a positive addition to the family dynamic, but his character isn’t developed enough throughout the film. It is as though, in the final edit, many of his scenes may have been cut.
Also, the character who seems to be Janet’s best friend and fellow doctor only appears in two important but quick scenes. In one scene, we find out that Janet had a crush on Lawrence when he was her professor in college. In the other, we learn Janet has a habit of self-sabotaging her relationships. Although he is not a very important character, he should be present in a few more to make his character believable as Janet’s best friend and to provide him with more purpose in the film. Again, possibly an editor’s mistake?
Even with its flaws, the film’s strong base of characters and their struggles to connect with others is what drives this film. It proves that no matter what your intellectual abilities or limitations may be, you can never have all the answers when it comes to relationships.