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Smart People
DVD disk
08.22.2008 By: Mathew Plale
Smart People order
Director:
Noam Murro

Actors:
Dennis Quaid
Ellen Page
Thomas Haden Church

Rating:
Movie:
Extras:
Overall:

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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
A dysfunctional Pittsburgh family copes with their surroundings, members, goals, and unwanted outsiders.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
Oh, just look how offbeat these characters are! The dad’s a self-loathing, self-important professor, his adopted brother’s a freeloadin’ toker, and his teenage daughter’s so witty and wise-beyond-her-years you’d think she was pregnant!

These are the smart people of, eh, Smart People, director Noam Murro’s uninspired embodiment of 21st-century Sundance. The plot, if there is one, circles around the Wetherhold clan, as the widowed patriarch (Dennis Quaid) who, whilst being chauffeured about town after a bad fall, starts and stomps out fires ignited by himself, his nurse/former student (Sarah Jessica Parker), and his uncooperative kin.

The cast is full of talented actors, but not one is given much to chew on: Quaid, still shy to the indie scene (though he gave an outstanding turn in 2002’s Far From Heaven), plays it as well as it’s written, while Parker shows just how drab she is without her Dolce & Gabbana purses. The best moments come from the exchanges between Page (as Vanessa) and Church (as Chuck). Take this one: “You should really make your bed. It sets the tone for the day,” says Vanessa, to which Chuck retorts, “How do you know what tone I was trying to set?”

There are plenty of funny and smart lines like that peppered throughout Mark Jude Poirier’s script, which is far more clever in its dialogue than its plot points. Closely following that all-too-familiar blueprint laid for the ‘quirky family dramedies’ (Little Miss Sunshine much?), the script forces his characters to display--with no shame--their faults, depressions, and hatred towards their own family for 90-something minutes until, just before the credits roll, they rejoice for better or, more accurately, for worse. And for its laziness, why bother?

Smart People was shot before last year’s “It” flick Juno, but released the season after. And without Page and her “juggernaut” as she calls it, Smart People would have gone completely unnoticed instead of riding coattails. Reason #43 to hate Juno
THE EXTRAS
Feature Commentary by Filmmaker Noam Murro and Writer Mark Jude Poirier: The fellas’ monotonous voices will turn some off, but their chemistry may win others over. Skip to your favorite scenes with this one.

The Smartest People (16:30): This standard piece offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into Smart People through interviews with the cast and crew. The contributors chime in with their thoughts on Pittsburgh and the film’s main characters.

Deleted Scenes (9:58): There are nine here, which at best give Page and Church more screentime together. At worst, they’re as stale as the rest of the movie.

Not So Smart (2:05) is a brief collection of bloopers.

Hidden on the disc is a piece called Smart People at Sundance (4:07), which takes a look at Sundance premiere, with the main players (sans Ellen Page, who was promoting Juno at the time) introducing the movie.
FINAL DIAGNOSIS
The 'quirky family dramedies' are quickly becoming a Sundance staple and a subgenre that "regulars" seek out in the video store. Too bad that most are as empty as Smart People. Kudos to Page and Church for keeping the audience interested, though.
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