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Thursday, 8 May 2008

Smart People

There's a certain kind of unease you get from watching a movie where the characters are meant to be really smart but everything they say or do is kind of dumb. Usually it's in bad murder mysteries involving so-called criminal geniuses (like every movie in the Saw series), where everyone stands around talking about how amazingly brilliant the masterminds' schemes are while any half-awake member of the audience figured out what was going on a good half hour ago. But Smart People has an even bigger problem, in that it doesn't have any gratuitous killings to distract viewers from the fact that English lit Professor Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid) is actually pretty dumb. Not because he's still moping around after his dead wife, or that when he does finally strike up a relationship of sorts with his doctor (Sarah Jessica Parker, who we're expected to believe is under 40 here) his pompous windbaggery is enough to drive her away, and she's clearly dim even for a doctor. Not even because he lets his supposedly dimmer but clearly more on the ball brother (the always fun Thomas Hadyen Church, who's increasingly the Bill Murray you get when you can't afford Bill Murray) move in with his obviously dysfunctional family, including his super-smart Republican robot in the making daughter (Ellen Page). But because in-between doing all that he never gets the chance to actually seem smart. The joke is clearly meant to be that all these "smart" people are really dumb when it comes to running their lives but, well, they're just all-round dumb no matter how many references they make to great literature or high brow culture. Which makes this would-be smart indy film (which, to be fair, does feature a lot of good performances) pretty dumb too.

Anthony Morris (this review appeared in Forte #426)