Smart People – Review

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Widowed English professor Lawrence (Dennis Quaid) gets his car towed when he visits his precocious daughter Vanessa (Page) in her college dorm and knocks himself out, trying to climb into the pound to retrieve his briefcase from the car.

The next thing he knows, he’s in hospital, being treated by the elegant Dr Janet Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker).

When he’s discharged, because of his injury, he’s banned from driving for a few months, but as luck would have it, his estranged slacker brother Chuck (Thomas Haden Church) has been hanging around like a bad smell, so he suggests moving in officially and becoming Lawrence’s driver, while he convalesces.

During the weeks that follow, Chuck becomes a bad influence on the studious Vanessa, while the hapless Lawrence struggles with the possibility of building a new relationship – with his doctor.


The smart people of the title refer to the professor and his daughter, whose razor sharp use of English should give rise to far more witty and biting language than it does. In other recent films, such as The Squid And The Whale, we have met highly intelligent characters who are too clever for their own good, throwing insulting witticisms that are so sharp they cut like a knife.

These guys just don’t cut it in that sense, which is a particular shame as the title sets them up for a fall.

Oddly, while Page and Quaid play the “smart” characters, most of the “smart” one-liners come from Haden Church’s dry wit.

Page is enjoyably misanthropic and the laconic Haden Church provides heaps of humour.

His role is pretty much the obligatory “comedy brother” role (alternately known as comedy best friend, comedy partner, comedy colleague etc), whose existence is largely to provide easier humour to counterbalance the supposedly smart dialogue from his co-stars.

He’s making a highly welcome return to the big screen after his Oscar-nominated turn in Sideways and a brief role in the last Spider-Man movie, but he hasn’t done much else of note in the meantime.

Sarah Jessica Parker, of course, is everywhere at the moment, promoting the Sex And The City movie, and while she might try to use this to show she can do more dramatic roles, as well as the glitzy romance, her rather humdrum doctor has little to do to allow her to shine and much of her behaviour seems to be far more driven by the plot than her character.

The film is perfectly watchable – largely for the cheeky interaction between Page and Haden Church – and the way they both bicker constantly with Quaid – but it won’t set the world on fire, as there’s very little original here and we don’t learn much about the human condition that we didn’t already know.

Or maybe I’m just not smart enough…