Smart People

Cover Art and Menus: 8/10
This cover is cool, yes. It’s colorful and has that semi-indie-low-budget look with a twist of humor and angst. The thing is, it wasn’t low budget or indie and it doesn’t honestly give the same tone as the movie. The art department might not have fully understood the gist of the film, but I still like the cover as a separate thing. It’s just too bad it doesn’t do justice to the movie. The menu is another attempt at the whole low-budget indie thing with the look of hand drawn Mondrian style shapes but with muted colors and scribbles here and there. It doesn’t match the cover, or the movie…hmmm. Again, it’s more of a wannabe of the cut and paste, arts and crafts movie packaging of Napoleon  Dynamite, Be Kind Rewind, Juno, and Year of the Dog. The thing with those movies is that the kind of home grown style fits. With Smart People it feels like the design team thought it would be cool to give their DVD package that style. I have no idea what the style should be, so all I can say is I like the cover, menu, and movie, they simply do not go together.

Features: 6/10

  • Deleted Scenes – Smart People is a well made solid film, so the deleted scenes are not missed at all. Some of them are funny, but wouldn’t have added to the final cut of the movie.
  • The Smartest People Interviews With Filmmakers & Cast – The name says it all. This is a good look at how and why the movie was written and finally made it to the big screen. Interviews are with the writer, director, and some cast. It’s not overly produced, but still gives off the vibe of TV commercial package to promote the movie when it’s coming to HBO.
  • Not So Smart Bloopers/Outtakes – Giggling, messing up lines, you get the picture. Bloopers should be standard DVD content, not extras.
  • Feature Commentary By Filmmaker Noam Murro & Writer Mark Jude Poirier – Murro is kind of dry to listen to, but he does give a good overview of how scenes were made, what it was like to work with certain cast members, etc. It’s not riveting or particularly entertaining, but if you love the movie you will appreciate the discussion while watching it again.

Movie: 8/10
A dysfunctional family, dead mother/wife, rebel relative coming around to shine some light on the misery, an unexpected love interest to soften a hardened heart, ok, we have established that this is not an original human tale. I can say, however, it’s a new take on what kind of family has fallen into disrepair. Smart People is about, um, people some might consider smart. I won’t lay out my whole argument of why people who are educated are not necessarily smart, that might bore you to tears. I will proceed under the impression that college professors and over achievers are smart, (not always true).

We meet the leading man, Dennis Quaid as  Professor Lawrence Weatherhold. Even his name, Weatherhold, is of course explaining his state of mind and life. He is in a holding pattern since his wife’s death a few years ago. His family consists of a daughter who is about to graduate from high school and a son who has already gone off to college. Well, he goes to the same university where our professor teaches, but as the story unfolds, even across town is far enough to break free from the misery this family has boiling under the surface. I will tell you that instantly I KNEW this guy was going to be a dickhead. The opening shot shows him parking diagonally across two parking spots and I thought, “oh man, this guy is a piece of work.” and I was right. We learn very quickly that he’s difficult when he gets his car impounded and tries to retrieve it with his not-so-subtle pomposity. He calls the impound attendant an illiterate little shit, so you know he’s going to be one of those “smart people”.

The daughter, Ellen Page, is studying for her SAT’s that are the next day when she’s called to the hospital and her first reaction is that she needs to keep studying and go to sleep, not that she needs to run to her father’s side. She’s another one of those “smart people”. We meet the head of the ER, Sara Jessica Parker who obviously has some history with the professor as she treats him with a certain kind of disdain but a touch of sadness or heart break. She’s a smart person too, however, she’s a little more human and less consumed with the arrogance that comes with the other educated folks. Soon enough the adopted brother, Hayden Church, hits the family full speed with his more gypsy ways. He floats from job to job, and takes a much less structured approach to life. He’s got his smartness too, the kind that gets behind the facades of achievement and sanity.

Every family has a mix of these people, the ones who try to make everything look fine by being overly organized, super productive and fit into the ideal of what being a success means to some people. Toss in the rebels, the less motivated but equally intelligent uncles who can either help the uptight brainiacs or cause them torturously uninvited distraction. That’s how this family starts out, of course. The laid back uncle is too much for the well oiled machine of the Weatherhold family to handle, but will they learn one more thing, not something a book can teach them? Oh, how cheesy.

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie from start to finish. The characters might seem extreme, but if you know any of these types in real life they are spot on with the attitude and quirks that come with a persona that includes hiding real emotions with achievement and constantly moving forward through life without understanding why they have pain, or dealing with it instead of covering it up. Quaid does an excellent job of being the pompous professor who is seething with some kind of bitterness and disdain for everyone around him. We have all met him in one way or another. Through the movie he holds that odd barely functional personality through mannerisms and the way he walks and talks and facial expressions. It was a pleasure to watch. It’s arguable that he goes a bit overboard at times, but come on, if you have not met this professor guy in one form or another you might just not realize they do exist quirks, mannerisms and all.

Ellen Page is the over achieving daughter who idolizes her father and has taken over the household duties since her mother died. She does a fine job of being the repressed youth with some of her own sadness to conquer. Hayden Church plays the “loser” uncle with a certain cartoonish approach sometimes, but overall he does a great job of injecting his scenes with a bit of relief from the tension that lives in their house. I’m not  fan of Parker, but in this she’s really quite good. I have to admit that I have never watched Sex in the City and I never well. It doesn’t appeal to me at all, but I won’t hold that against her:) She plays an obviously intelligent doctor who has some issues with relationships. She gets tangled into the world of the miserable professor and in her own way brings some balance to the family. I like Parker now more than I did before, so that’s saying something for sure. She’s got a subtly about her that I didn’t give her credit for. Her character is my favorite in the movie, and she’s a bit part of that.

As the story goes the daughter needs to lighten up, the son is already out and has gotten on with his life, the father needs to let go of the past and his hurt, and the adopted brother/uncle needs some stability…it’s a win win win win situation for everyone. It is an enjoyable if not occasionally overwritten film that won’t bowl you over with action or big comedy, but it is a pleasure to watch on a relaxing Sunday afternoon. (Yes, different movies have a different type of day and time that suit them, but that’s a whole other article.

Audio & Video: (By Ascully) 8/10
Smart People was a surprising treat for me as it is a movie I haven’t heard about but turned out to be great entertainment. I took a look at both the Blu-Ray and DVD versions this week while in the process of researching for this review. I have to say that the Blu-Ray version is not much of a step up from the DVD in terms of video quality. I think this is because the movie is fairly low budget and the film stock used carries a lot of grain which is visible in almost every scene. This isn’t a bad thing as grain is all part of the movie experience, it just makes the HD version less noticeably vibrant.

Audio is a different matter. Smart People is a movie which is dialog heavy for the complete running time. Listening to the uncompressed TrueHD version of the soundtrack that comes on the Blu-Ray version is a treat with lots of subtle shifts in sound around you. I say subtle as the movie’s soundtrack mostly comes from your center speaker only occasionally during some of the movies songs does it wake up the rear speakers. The DVD contains the Dolby 5.1 soundtrack which for this kind of movie is also perfectly serviceable. I guess what I am saying is this, if you must have the Blu-Ray go for it but if you see the DVD cheaper you are not missing much.

Value: 5/10
I enjoyed Smart People. I would recommend it to a lot of people. I will watch it again. The extras on the Blu-Ray disc are fair, not great. The cover is fun (even if it doesn’t fit the movie). All of this is positive stuff, don’t ya think? The thing that spoils it all is the price…I’m not in to the $25-$27 price tag. Even the DVD version is 22 bucks, which is also scratching its way to the “too much” list. It’s a quality film and I would be happy to pay $12-$15 for either media (Blu-Ray or DVD). Until it’s that price (never) I say rent it online or one of those old fashioned movie rental buildings you might have in your area. The one thing that might redeem the price is that you get a free ticket to see the new movie called Blindness that will be coming to theaters at some point this Fall. If your local theater charges 12 for a movie ticket and you get in free, that’s a pretty good deal. Our theater costs 7.50 per ticket, so the payback isn’t as good, but still something to think about if you are still a ‘movie goer’. If they continue putting free movie tickets in DVD’s I will have to revamp my “DVD’s should be cheaper” mantra.

Overall 8/10