May 6, 2008

[Movies] Smart People

Smart PeopleWhen we couldn't get timely enough tickets for Iron Man, we ended up checking out the films being shown at the Graumann's Chinese 6 theaters when this film caught my eye. I have to admit with no poster immediately available and with none of us having any prior knowledge of what the film might be about, I had to initially go my stars in deciding it it was worth seeing.

Of course it's hard to simply ignore the unusual collaboration of Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ellen Page and (of all people) Thomas Haden Church. We entered the theater thinking it was a comedy.

That notion lasted only as long as the trailers did - then I saw the Miramax logo.

Smart People might best be termed as an art film of sorts. It certainly has all the diverse elements of one and the actors involved have certainly had their fair share of strong dramas and slightly left field projects. It had an interesting soundtrack (but no where near as fun as Juno's) and it certainly had an uncommon story driving the whole thing.

The story follows the intellectually brilliant family of Professor Lawrence Wetherhold (Quaid) as composed of his aloof college son James (Ashton Holmes), his scarily driven young Republican daughter Vanessa (Page) and the odd ball in the family, his inept adopted brother Chuck (Church). Lawrence is known to be self-centered and highly disconnected from the people around him, mainly by choice and the sheer nature of his personality. Things begin to become interesting when his adopted brother comes into town and Lawrence finds himself vying for the affections of Dr. Janet Hartigan (Parker), who just happens to be one of his former students who used to foster a school girl crush on him. Small world indeed.

In some ways the story seems trite, but it came out surprisingly well in the long run. The humor was subtle and rather dry, which was a more than welcome relief from the usual gross-out, slapstick humor that tends to dominate today's movie industry. Of course given the more dramatic nature of the film, even the jokes and running gags at time felt more like very deliberate plot devices geared towards communicating another message apart from what lines are actually spoken aloud.

At the same time, the movie has its slow points and not even the witty delivery of the likes of Page are able to keep the momentum up. There's a point in the middle when the characters seem to get a little too lost in their own troubles that it doesn't seem to help the movie get anywhere significant.

Still, overall it was an enjoyable piece with its own message to deliver in a rather uncommon fashion. While I'm not exactly a big fan of his previous films, I have to admit that Church was an excellent casting choice as Chuck. He didn't make his antics the main attraction (or distraction) of the film and ensured things continued to push through. His performance was pretty good and actually did factor in significantly to the overall success of the project.

Sarah Jessica Parker was a bit so-so here and didn't really feel that important a character, mainly because of her performance. Page certainly tried her best and put up a good performance, although at times she still felt like the girl in Juno, albeit with weaker writers behind her and no interesting exchanges of significant import with other characters. She's on her way to becoming very good actress, but then this film didn't come out as a good medium for presenting her skills.

It's still a movie worth watching - not your run-of-the-mill entertainment offering, At the same time, I'm sure there are those who enjoy all parts of it and are bound to get bored or will nod off in the cool confines of the theater.

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