American astronomer Dr. Carl Sagan once said, “Knowing a great deal is not the same as being smart; intelligence is not information alone but also judgment, the manner in which information is collected and used.” So it’s not surprising that some ‘smart people’ can be thick as planks.
While pompous Carnegie Mellon University literature professor Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid) may be a brilliant academician, he’s a caustic, contemptuous curmudgeon. And while his smug, selfish 17 year-old whiz-kid daughter Vanessa (Ellen Page) may ace her SATs, ensuring early admission to Stanford, she hasn’t a clue about herself. Sent to Pittsburgh to dig them out of their self-inflicted misery are his inept, irresponsible adopted brother Chuck (Thomas Haden Church) and former student-turned-lonely-ER doctor, Janet Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker).
Drawing from “The Wonder Boys,” “The Squid and the Whale” and “Dan in Real Life,” first-time screenwriter Mark Jude Poirier and former commercials director Noam Murro delineate some potentially provocative, dysfunctional family situations but then let them drift somewhat aimlessly for far too long before coming to a totally predictable conclusion.
The three leading actors dig into their idiosyncratic characters: Dennis Quaid (“Vantage Point”) embodies the misanthropic widower, matched by Ellen Page (“Juno”) as his smartass verbal sparring partner, and Thomas Haden Church (“Sideways”) as the freewheeling humanist/slacker. On the other hand, Sarah Jessica Parker (“Sex and the City”) can’t seem to latch on to what’s appealing about this erudite, middle-aged loser – resulting in zero chemistry between them – and the majority of Ashton Holmes’ role as Wetherold’s collegiate son must have been left on the cutting-room floor.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Smart People” is an underwhelming, fragmented 5 – ending with a photographic epilogue that’s quite confusing if you really look closely.