From newcomer director Noam Murro comes "Smart People," a quirky little film that blends comedy, drama and romance into a well-crafted narrative. Starring Ellen Page, Dennis Quad, Thomas Hayden Church and Sarah Jessica Parker, "Smart People" capitalizes on the success of indie favorite "Juno," and gives those with a finer taste in things something to laugh at.
Dennis Quad plays Lawrence Wetherhold, a widowed, bitter and pretentious literature professor at Carnegie Mellon University. As a pompous blow bag, Lawrence has succeeded in alienating his son James and turning daughter Vanessa (Ellen Page) into a friendless, socially inept automaton.
After an incident on campus, Lawrence is left with a busted back and a one-way trip to the emergency room. Upon waking up in the ER he meets Janet (Sarah Jessica Parker), one of his former students, who he is immediately taken by.
As if chronic back pain isn't enough of a hassle for Lawrence, his ne'er-do-well brother Chuck (Thomas Haden Church) unexpectedly shows up at his door, low on cash and needing a place to stay. It just so happens fate has a sense of humor, being as Lawrence can't drive for six months and Chuck is now available to chauffer him around town.
Chuck begins to spend time with Vanessa and encourages her attempts at bad behavior. As an honor student and member of her high school's young republicans club, Vanessa is one of those kids that are so focused on the future they forget they're living in the present. After smoking marijuana and sneaking into bars with her perverted uncle Chuck, Vanessa slowly realizes there might be more to life than just a perfect SAT score.
The acting in this film, I thought, was terrific. Never was I unconvinced by the miserable asshole that Dennis Quad plays, and though Ellen Page was essentially playing the fundamentalist conservative version of Juno, she was still a joy to see on screen. Thomas Hayden Church was hilarious as the adopted brother. He was easily the best part of the movie and accidentally manages to bring order and understanding to the Wetherhold home.
Sarah Jessica Parker also isn't annoying, which is a feat in itself for this reviewer. I typically don't care for her in any film, as she always just plays herself and hardly brings anything to a character. Here, though, as doctor Janet Hartigan, Parker actually blends in well with the other successful, smart but socially stupid outcasts who comprise the film's cast.
For director Noam Murro and screenwriter Mark Poirer, "Smart People" is quite an achievement. I think this film shows a lot of promise for the future of their careers and is certainly more than just a "Juno" knockoff with lippy, angst-ridden teens. While not as laugh out loud funny as its pregnant cousin, I certainly enjoyed this film and would highly recommend it.