DVD Review : Smart People
The spoilers are everything that is the case
A story about dysfunctional intellectuals is great material because a culture of the unrelenting pursuit of knowledge (and the notoriety that comes with it), it is easy to sacrifice other aspects that make up the human experience. Smart People consists of two such stories: Lawrence’s (Dennis Quaid) story and Vanessa’s (Ellen Page) story.
Lawrence is a tenured English professor, who actively distances himself from his students, discourages their growth by stifling their interpretations of his subject, Victorian Literature, and loathes having to simplify his books and essays to get them published. His abysmal relationships with students and co-workers are only eclipsed by his disastrous handling of his family.
Vanessa is a child sized version of her father, the above mentioned Lawrence, though she does have a dream of moving away from her dreary surroundings. She shuns all her cohorts and isolates herself, but she’s lonely and wishes that she could just integrate.
The crux of the film is that Lawrence has a seizure and is treated by Dr. Janet (Sarah Jessica Parker), who was a former student of his. One of the side effects of the seizure is that he can no longer operate a motor vehicle, so his lay-about brother, Chuck (Thomas Haden Church) moves in to help him out.
Chuck becomes a comedic foil to both Vanessa and Lawrence, but nothing can save these two utterly unpleasant characters. Chuck tries to remind Lawrence that even fleeting happiness is still happiness and he should take a chance with Janet, though Lawrence seems just as happy to remain sullen. Chuck also tries to introduce Vanessa to adolescent banality by getting her drunk and stoned.
To put it absolutely plainly, Smart People tried to portray academics like Sideways portrayed wine connoisseurs, but instead of showing their humanity and frailties, we see that they are terrible people who sabotage themselves and those close to them. There is no reason given to believe they don’t deserve to be in their particular situations or that they can change.
I wanted to enjoy this film. I like Dennis Quaid, Ellen Page, and Thomas Haden Church but for the life of me I just couldn’t connect to the characters or the story. This film appeared with little fanfare and went quietly into the night and I think we’re all better for it.