Smart People (9/10)
by Tony Medley
This is a film about people
who are smarter than everyone else, know it, and the ineffective ways in
which they deal with the other people in the world who aren’t as smart.
Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid) and his daughter, Vanessa (Ellen
Page), are very smart, indeed, and they appear extraordinarily haughty.
But as the film shows if you pay attention, it’s not necessarily
haughtiness. For people who are super smart, their intelligence is their
norm. They don’t necessarily view themselves as being terrifically smart
(I say necessarily because there are some really arrogant smart people
out there). Rather, they get impatient with others for not getting what
they get so easily.
I equate this with being
tall, a condition in which I have found myself most of my life. Just as
people who are smart don’t necessarily feel that way, I never have felt
tall. I never think about height because my height is my norm. But
people who are shorter than I apparently think of me as tall. Are you
getting this? So when people in this film think of Lawrence and Vanessa
as demeaning towards less intelligent people, they are missing the mark
and that’s what this film beautifully presents. They are smart. That’s
their norm. What appears to be haughtiness is, in reality, frustration
in dealing with people who don’t view things from the same starting
point. The film shows two people who are far above their contemporaries
in intelligence and suffering for it because they just can’t cope with
dealing with people who don’t get it as quickly or succinctly as they
Director Noam Murro, in his
directorial debut, has a brilliant script, sometimes very funny,
sometimes poignant, by novelist and first time screenwriter Mark
Poirier. He also has an A-list cast of Page, Quaid, Thomas Haden Church,
and Sarah Jessica Parker (OK, maybe she’s just marginally A-list). The
result he has produced is greater than the sum of its parts.
Professor Wetherhold is an
intellectual giant, an unhappy, nasty, acerbic English professor.
Vanessa is a chip off the old block, brilliant, acerbic, and friendless.
Lawrence’s brother by adoption, the ne’er-do-well Chuck (Church), shows
up and moves in, against Lawrence’s wishes. Chuck represents every man,
the person of normal intelligence who deals with people much better than
his brother and niece.
In a fit of pique, Lawrence
injures himself and meets emergency physician Janet Hartigan (Parker), a
former student who apparently had a schoolgirl crush on him and tries to
make something out of this renewed meeting. As might be expected, she
finds that task of dealing with this guy on his terms daunting. To round
out the ill-fitting family, Lawrence’s son, James (Ashton Holmes), can’t
communicate with Lawrence any better than can Vanessa.
Page, with one of the most
beautiful faces in Hollywood, Quaid, Church, and Parker all give
performances that live up to the material, and that’s high praise.
This sort of reminded me of
“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” (1966), although it’s not nearly as
biting and vitriolic. As a result, it’s a lot closer to reality.