Sunday, August 17, 2008

Review >> Smart People

Watched Smart People last night. Cute movie about an intellectually smart but emotionally obtuse and socially stunted English professor at Carnegie-Mellon, in Pittsburgh, who has recently been widowed. It is a light and hopeful piece that traces the gentle arc of how he and his daughter, who is very much like him, learn to get out of their head and more into the lives of others. No big brush strokes here, no grand revelations, no emotional crescendos. Just nuances of the heart.

Strong cast. Well-acted. Smart but simple soundtrack consisting mostly of sensitive acoustic guitar work. It all works well together. Enjoyed it very much.

From the Amazon review:
Much in the manner of Curtis Hanson’s Wonder Boys, the very funny and bracingly intelligent Smart People concerns a college instructor meandering through life until unexpected developments force a cascade of personal changes. Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid), a recently widowed literature professor, is a numb and chilly intellectual who rebuffs his students, ignores his all-but-emancipated teen kids (Ashton Holmes and Junos Ellen Page), and spurns cries for financial assistance from his ne’er-do-well but rather soulful adopted brother, Chuck (Thomas Haden Church).

After an accident lands Lawrence in the hospital and deprives him of the right to drive, someone else falls into his bleak sphere: Janet (Sarah Jessica Parker), a physician and former student of Lawrence who remembers her disappointment in him as a teacher and role model. Against all logic, Janet and Lawrence become a romantic item, a choice for which neither of them is entirely prepared. Meanwhile, Chuck and Vanessa (Page) enter an awkward phase in their relationship as niece and uncle, just another sign that the Wetherhold clan has become too insular and self-referential.

Screenwriter Mark Poirier’s inspired and literate story sets up lots of chaos, attitude, and cross-conflict, then hangs back and lets the characters verbally spar, much to our great amusement. What's happening, however, are deep changes in relationships and destinies that Lawrence and the others naturally resist, until they can’t. Director Noam Murro knows one of his most important contributions to the film is to stay out of the characters’ way and provide Poirier’s barbed humor a supportive setting. Quaid is outstanding as the pivotal figure in this tale, a man who looks creaky and washed up beyond his years, but who is not entirely past redemption.
—Tom Keogh

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