SMART PEOPLE Directed by Noam Murro, written by Mark Poirier, with Dennis Quaid, Ellen Page and Sarah Jessica Parker. A Miramax release. 95 minutes. Opens Friday (April 11). For venues and times, see listings. Rating: NN
Look out, Ellen Page. You’re really close to falling into type. Time to do the Christina Ricci thing. As an anti-dote to her teen type, she dove into some ultra-adult material.
Page isn’t exactly Juno in Smart People, the indie pic about a family still recovering from Mom’s death, but she is doing that snarky teen girl thing and the shtick could get really old really soon.
She plays Vanessa, a high school senior more interested in the Young Republicans and getting 790 SAT scores than she is in being a teenager and having fun. She also manages to run the household, which includes her sullen brother and her cranky prof dad, Lawrence (Dennis Quaid).
When Lawrence suffers a concussion, he takes an awkward interest in Janet, his doctor and former student (Sarah Jessica Parker), and his slacker brother Chuck (Thomas Haden Church) shows up broke just in time to move in and play chauffeur after he’s forced to forfeit his licence.
There’s something weirdly wonky about this project. Even though Janet suggests that Lawrence ask her about herself, we never find out why she has so much relationship trouble.
Character-driven dramas need strong, fleshed-out personalities to work, so let’s have ’em.
The superb Christine Lahti shows up as one of Lawrence’s colleagues in what has to have been a bigger part before the editors got their mitts on it – you don’t see this kind of talent in meaningless roles.
In the meantime, Quaid, complete with new paunch, lumbers around trying to come off as hangdoggedly traumatized, but he’s starting to develop a Jack Nicholson smirk that prevents him from engendering any empathy.
Haden Church is terrific as the adopted brother who tries to get the pickle out of Vanessa’s bum, but he’s not enough to salvage the film.
Look at the cast and the premise of Smart People and you think it can’t lose. It just shows how mysterious the alchemy of filmmaking can be.