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DVD Review

DVD cover

Smart People


Starring: Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ellen Page and Thomas Haden Church
Icon Home Entertainment
RRP: £17.99
Certificate: 15
Available 15 September 2008

Professor Lawrence Wetherhold might be an intellectual giant - but when it comes to solving the conundrums of love and family, he’s as downright flummoxed as the next guy. His collegiate son won’t confide in him, his teenaged daughter is an acid-tongued overachiever who follows all too closely in dad’s misery-loving footsteps, and his adopted, preposterously ne’er-do-well brother has perfected the art of freeloading. When Lawrence accidentally encounters his former student Janet, the circumstances cause him to stir from his deep, deep freeze, with often comical, sometimes heartbreaking, consequences for himself and everyone around him...

Smart People follows the lives of the Wetherhold household as they each stand at a crossroads in their lives. The head of the household, Lawrence (Dennis Quaid), is having a colossal mid-life crisis. He’s a venerable professor who can’t connect with his students; a brilliant writer who can’t publish his book; an aloof father who can’t comprehend his equally smart children; and a lonesome widower who can no longer remember the details of how love works; Vanessa (Ellen Page) is a super smart teenager who has taken over the role of homemaker since her mother's death. But she is about to go to colleague and is a little scared of facing an uncertain future; James (Ashton Holmes) is quiet, withdrawn and yearns to be a writer; and Chuck (Thomas Haden Church), Lawrence's adopted brother, is unemployed, likes to party and isn't too hot on taking responsibility for the path his life is taking.

After Lawrence's wife dies, the family's life seems to have come to a standstill... that is until two events shatter the angst-ridden peace and change everything. First, Lawrence’s adopted brother Chuck comes back into his life, looking for a place to crash while he gets his life together for the thousandth time. And then, against all odds, Lawrence does the unthinkable: he falls in love.

Dennis Quaid is inspired casting for the role of Lawrence. With a prosthetic mid-life spread, bad posture and strange walk, Quaid is transformed into a totally different character than we've seen before. This is about as far removed from the action hero he played in Vantage Point as you can get. As he fumbles though his life, self-absorbed, you are left wondering why anyone would want to be in his company for more than a few minutes - especially his old student Janet (Sarah Jessica Parker).

There were way too many questions left unanswered at the close of this movie. While Janet is justifiably angry with Lawrence every time they meet up, what does she see in the man that makes her go back for more? Could it be that she is depressed and in possession of a low self-esteem? It's hinted, but never really explored. Also, James is very underused, to the point that by the end of the movie I felt, like Lawrence, that I didn't really know him at all.

By far the best aspect of this movie is the interaction between Vanessa and Chuck, as Chuck tries to show her what being a teenager is all about.

There are no extras at all on this disc, which is a shame as at the very least a director's commentary would have been interesting.

While this movie is funny and touching, tragic and sweet, I couldn't help feeling that something was missing. And the conclusion seemed a little tacked on - as though the writer just threw that idea in to wrap everything up quickly. Still, an enjoyable film.


Nick Smithson

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