Feel for me. I saw Charlie Bartlett and Smart People not just in the same week, not just on the same day, but with a gap of about ten minutes between them. It was the dire double bill to end all dire double bills. And sorry Dennis Quaid, because you get two films in a row with this one. And I like Dennis Quaid. but then I like most of the actors in Smart People. Thomas Haden Church has had a good few years. Ditto little Ellen Page. I’ve never really cared for Sarah Jessica Parker but she doesn’t have DUD written all over her forehead the moment she walks into shot.
No, the problem with Smart People is encapsulated perfectly within its title. The plot is simple: Them Smart People – they ain’t so smart about real life stuff. Quaid plays a grouchy university English professor, Ellen Page his whip smart (for which read not speaking like a normal person) Republican daughter. Church is the black sheep of the family, the non-smart one. But hey, he may not be book smart but he went to the University Of Life*. Because Smart People is a film riddled through with self loathing. It is basically an anti-intellectual film aimed at intellectuals. STARRING DENNIS QUAID. Look at that poster after all. How do we know they are smart people? Well the film title is spelled out with Scrabble tiles. BECAUSE SMART PEOPLE PLAY SCRABBLE.
Now I don’t want to be rude to Mr Quaid. I know he has played scientists and professors before. BUT IN THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW! Quaid is a hands dirty, grizzled cop of an actor, a maverick, a womaniser. He is not the world hating University prof type. Even if you stick a beard on him. Church is really just replaying his role in Sideways and frankly you can give Ellen Page a script full of smart cynical one liners and let her run. But nothing in this film is smart, from its obvious premise to its unearned stab at a warm ending. An anti-intellectual film, for intellectuals made by dimwits.
Oh and you thought Charlie Barlett was smug? Page wipes the floor with him in this. It is how the character is written (teen Republican making Tracy Flick look like Tony Benn) but if you have any slapping energy from giving Barlett a wallop, Vanessa Wetherhold deserves a back hand of your watch.
(I have just checked IMDB and there is a whole character I have forgotten, such was its toxicity. There is another, now its coming to me, son who I am sure quotes philosophy at some point to pull a fresher. Grr.)
*Twinned, as ever in movies, with a Social Security Office.