Smart People (DVD)

Did you like Juno? Are you a kind of sensitive type who knows life is deep and meaningful, but also have such a busy lifestyle that finding a decent arthouse cinema is just a bit too much effort? Then here's the carefully branded movie for you! Ellen Page has unsurprisingly attached herself to yet another piece of 50% indie, 50% focus group produced mediocrity that has little to offer other than basic light entertainment.

A little harsh? Perhaps, but I can't help but feel that these kind of movies are jumping on a bandwagon that began with Jarmusch, ran up to Wes Anderson and crashed into a bunch of unknowns who have simply turned a bunch of interesting, low-budget films from the past 25 years into a formula for economic success that the studios can't ignore. That, to me, is very very sad. To elaborate a little, Smart People is a movie about a dysfunctional family. On the surface they're all clever and successful: Lawrence Wetherhold (Quaid) is a literary professor at a well-known university, with a precocious young daughter (Page) who is getting top marks in all her exams as well as fulfilling her potential in such superlative after school societies as the Young Republicans, and a son who is already at another top university writing poetry good enough to be published in the New Yorker. Those of you who can't already smell the sub-plot brewing should get your noses checked out. Of course, these guys are socially inept and it takes the sudden appearance of Wetherhold's estranged step-brother Chuck, and 'sexy' doctor Janet Hardigan (Parker) to teach them that there's more to life than a pompous, introverted devotion to intellect and success.

SARCASM ALERT: What a great lesson that'll be! I was busy learning to recite Shakespeare, Chaucer, Goethe and Proust by rote to prove to my fellow man on the street that I'm his social better! Thank [insert relevant deity (if any) here] that I saw this film or I'd have looked like a right buffoon.... Oh.... wait, NOBODY THINKS LIKE THAT! And if they did, they wouldn't watch this crap. They'd spend the extra 30 minutes or however long it takes to find a cinema that shows (quasi-)intellectual films that aren't two-dimensional and expecting to make a profit largely on the appeal of second-rate yet somehow household name celebrities like Sarah Jessica Parker and Dennis Quaid. I mean, Sex and the City'and The Day After Tomorrow are hardly great pedigrees for a film that's trying so damn hard to be the kind of movie described on posters as "heartfelt", "painfully accurate" and "delightfully witty", are they?

By this point some of you may be wondering whether I've unnecessarily burst a blood vessel over this, so to put your mind at rest: I haven't, but if I had it wouldn't be unnecessary. The film isn't the worst thing to hit our screens of late, I'll freely admit that. There are some genuinely nice moments, a few pieces of funny dialogue and a bit where Dennis Quaid falls off a fence. This is all affable enough. But what really gets my goat is that this is a middle of the road piece of template comedy which is masquerading as something deeper, something a lot more off the beaten track, and something that should appeal to a broad demographic. It just isn't that. Smart People is a humdrum comedy/drama that could possible entertain somebody very bored for its duration, but really won't provide any lasting insights, images or even jokes. There are many worthier films to spend your cash on folks, believe me.

EXTRAS Nada, nothing, el-zippo. Which is not all that smart.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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