Smart People (Miramax, 2008) D: Noam Murro, w/ Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker. Rating: NN; DVD packge: NN
The best reason to watch is the acting. Dennis Quaid plays against the relaxed cheeriness he's always cast for to become Lawrence, a thoroughly believable mean-spirited literature professor, still miserable a decade after his wife's death. As his daughter Vanessa, Ellen Page proves that her Juno performance was no fluke. She moves seamlessly between the smart but emotionally unaware 17-year-old she is and the brittle 40-year-old that the years of serving as her father's wife have made her.
Thomas Haden Church as the ne'er-do-well brother who shows up to rattle the depressive rut, and Sarah Jessica Parker, the doctor who awakens Lawrence's romantic yearnings, don't have as much to do, but they do it flawlessly.
Even so, it's a dull movie. Writer Mark Poirier keeps our attention firmly on repressed emotion and lets us know exactly what's being repressed. He also avoids anything resembling plot complications, so there's little forward motion.
First-time director Noam Murro adds to the flatness with monotonous pacing and a reverential tone, muting both the drama and comedy.
In their nothing-special commentary, Murro and Poirier talk proudly of keeping things small and un-Hollywood. As a deliberate strategy, it can claim one achievement: nobody plays cute. Quaid's Lawrence isn't a lovable curmudgeon; he's just an asshole. Against the overall monotony, that's not much help.
EXTRAS Director and writer commentary, making-of doc, bloopers, deleted scenes, Easter egg. Widescreen. English, French, Spanish subtitles.