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Smart People Movie Review

Smart People: Emotionally Unintelligent

Smart People has a lot of good stuff going for it: a great cast (including Ellen Page in the follow-up to her star-making Juno role), sharp and funny dialogue, and a studied look at familial dysfunction.

The movie takes place in a dreary Pittsburgh near the Carnegie Mellon campus and is centered around a family headed by a widowed professor given a name that could only go to a serious blow-hard: Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid). He is father to high school senior Vanessa (Page) and Carnegie Melon student/talented poet James. Lawrence, we quickly learn, also has an adopted brother, Chuck (Thomas Haden Church), who's a major slacker and/or free spirit who comes to crash with the family when he's run out of money.

The story isn't the most original idea ever scripted, but if told right, it could have been a nice little movie about learning to love and appreciate the crazy nut-heads we're all dealt in life: our relatives. Unfortunately the loving and appreciating comes far too late and as a result, we end up watching a lot of seriously miserable people roam around being miserable without much point. To see what I think rescues this film from being a total Debbie Downer,


The Wetherholds, save for Chuck, are, as the title suggests, extremely intelligent (in the "we wear tweed and get published in The New Yorker" kind of way) but completely emotionally withdrawn. It takes a new love interest (Sarah Jessica Parker) to begin to melt the ice around the professor's heart and the fun-loving uncle to get the family to reveal an ounce of humanity to the outside world. Thankfully, they're so darn smart that when they take verbal jabs at each other, they're witty and biting enough to make for some good laughs.

Page, in particular, plays her politically conservative, uptight character with the same smart-aleck timing as slacker-teen Juno MacGuff — so it's funny, but not an acting stretch. However, some of the best moments of this film come during her scenes with Church, who takes an interest in getting his stick-in-the-mud niece to loosen up a little. They smoke pot together, get drunk, and have some really wonderfully touching, offbeat moments of bonding that are the result of two fine actors bringing out the best in each other.

Quaid's character, on the other hand, is really quite repellent. He is withdrawn, shows zero interest in his students, takes his children for granted and is that guy who talks about himself for 45 minutes on a date without asking the woman a question. Why would any woman, much less an attractive, accomplished doctor, want to be with him?

Unfortunately, the professor doesn't begin to see the error of his ways until it's much too late and as a result, it's hard to care about him — and, by extension, his family. At least there is one character who found the Wetherholds' repressed, socially awkward personalities unpleasant and indulgent. As Chuck, Church mastered a facial expression during exchanges between these unhappy people that perfectly expressed what I as a viewer was thinking: "Man, and they call me the idiot?"

To see the trailer and more clips from Smart People check out

Photos courtesy of Miramax Films

Entertainment Entertainment 9 years
beach5blondie — You completely misunderstood my sentence. The depiction of Pittsburgh in this movie is dreary. It is presented as a dreary city. I myself don't think the city actually is a dreary city, I'm saying this is how it is presented in the movie. Even if I did think the city were dreary, that would be one person's opinion, and would have absolutely nothing to do with "stupidity."
Martini-Rossi Martini-Rossi 9 years
this reminds me of family stone, which was a great movie, but Ill wait till its on HBO or Showtime.
beach5blondie beach5blondie 9 years
I think you have alot of nerve saying "dreary" pittsburgh. I love pittsburgh and couldn't imagine living in dirty NYC or crazy Hollywood. I have been to both of those cities and london and hated them all. Buzz you should use your words more careful next time. I find this rude, ignorant, and also shows your stupidity!
supertramp supertramp 9 years
I really want to see this because I heard it did well at the festival and it just looks good to me. It looks like a lot of the films that I watch except with a diff. plot. Can't wait to see it.
Linda-McP Linda-McP 9 years
As a "Pittsburgher," I'm still anxious to see this one, if only to catch glimpses of CMU and the baggage claim area of the airport. Unfortunately, I've spent way too many hours in that place! Pittsburgh really is a great city; hope IT comes out looking good in the film.
wren1 wren1 9 years
This did not look good to me. Sorry SJP!
beingtazim beingtazim 9 years
i have been wanting to see this but it is not at the top of my list or anything. judging my your review, i think i'll rent it or get it from the library.
ElizabethRae ElizabethRae 9 years
I think Ellen actually filmed this before Juno. But I bet this movie does a lot better now that she has made a name for herself.
stephley stephley 9 years
Dang, I had hope for this one.
ehadams ehadams 9 years
Thanks for the review. It got a lot of buzz at the festivals but I wanted to see what a real person thought. Sounds like a rental.
InfernalMari InfernalMari 9 years
LOL at William Carlos Williams! XD Like he needs a book that big with poems like the red
splayer splayer 9 years
They did film the moving on Carnegie Mellon's campus. As an alum, I'm really excited to see campus on the big screen. Can't wait!
Nitachequita Nitachequita 9 years
The movie was filmed before Dennis' twins were conceived. Happy coincidence that he later had twins.
sumbum sumbum 9 years
I was so disappointed w/ this movie. =( I saw it last night & left not really caring. It's a shame too b/c the casting was great. The movie was much more dreary & sad then I thought it was going to be. I also felt like the scenes were very short & it didn't leave much for character development. I agree, it took too long for the Professor to come around & by the end I didn't really care if he had a happy ending. I loved THC though, he was hilarious, a great comic relief. I'm guessing that the babies at the end were DQ's own twins? cuuuute!!
sweetrae80 sweetrae80 9 years
Aww poor's always depicted as dreary. I wonder if they filmed here?
raieven raieven 9 years
Exactly what I thought after watching the trailer!
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