Dysfunctional families are at the epicenter of films recently. Throw in a dead spouse and you have the typical plotline for many new dramatic films, which is no different when talking about “Smart People,” a film starring Dennis Quaid and Sarah Jessica Parker. As the title hints, the film is full of geniuses who say very clever and witty lines. It is just too bad that this film isn’t as snarky and groundbreaking as it would like you to think it is.
Lawrence Wetherford (Dennis Quaid) is a college English teacher who lost his wife ten years ago and has thus become an emotionless, self-centered shut-in. That is until he meets Janet Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker), an ex-student of his who is now a very lonely ER doctor. Lawrence’s uptight daughter (Ellen Page) doesn’t approve of his new friend, however, and things get even zanier when Lawrence’s adopted brother Chuck (Thomas Haden Church) drops in looking for money. With such an all-star cast you’d think this would be a perfect SAT score of a movie, but it’s meandering story elements and dialogue are too quirky for their own good.
Dialogue in this film was blatantly on-the-nose on many occasions, especially when it came to expressing the themes of the film. For example, when Lawrence is first starting to date Janet she says “this must be hard for you to be on a date with your wife being dead.” Of course he feels like that, but why did she have to say that? It makes me think that the filmmaker doesn’t trust the audience to understand the emotions at play, and that’s just insulting.
The best part of the film, other than segments of intelligent dialogue, has to be the interactions between Thomas Hayden Church and Ellen Page. Both are phenomenal and make this extremely long movie (starts strong and then just drags along) more bearable.
Those issues aside, the film is still decent, but it could’ve been much better. The characters don’t really progress too far (any developments are too minute to be appreciated), leaving this movie as really just a bunch of A-List names with nothing much else to offer.