All-star cast fails to save tedious script

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All-star cast fails to save tedious script

“Smart People” has all the trappings to raise expectations of a good movie: a title that assures potential viewers of its high-brow intentions, a purposefully drab setting against a soundtrack of strummy guitar tunes and an all-star cast of Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Thomas Haden Church and Ellen Page.

But it’s all just a tease. Smart People should have been named “Dreadful People.” It’s hard to imagine what the film’s stars were thinking when they signed onto director Noam Murro’s insufferable project.

As the opening credits roll, viewers are subjected to a montage of all the ways that Dennis Quaid’s Professor Lawrence Wetherhold is terrible. He double parks his car on purpose. He’s fat. He’s a jerk of an educator who can’t remember any of his students’ names.

So why are we supposed to care about him again?

That question ran through my mind the entire film. In fact, none of the characters are appealing in any way, except for maybe Wetherhold’s college student son James (Ashton Holmes), who is more a nonentity than endearing.

But the rest of the Wetherhold family - the miserable superkid Vanessa (Page) and Lawrence’s buttocks-baring “adopted brother” Chuck (Church) - is wretched. Vanessa is the type of sweater-vested misanthrope who calls the doctor informing her of her father’s hospitalization a “bitch,” and elicits the same reaction from said doctor.

The doctor is Janet Hartigan (Parker), one of Lawrence’s former students, and she ends up being his attending physician when he’s hospitalized after a seizure. What results from this episode is an unlikely courtship between Janet, who’s testing out her long-dormant hot-for-teacher feelings, and Lawrence, an embittered widower.

Their relationship moves through great incongruous stumbles. Lawrence is hideously rude right off the bat, even from the hospital bed, and why Janet gives him a second, third and fourth chance is incomprehensible.

For example, during their first date, Lawrence shows himself to be so self-centered, he talks about himself for 45 minutes straight. But by some harebrained logic, Janet eventually takes him to bed. The pair doesn’t deserve the outcome to their relationship. The love story simply doesn’t make sense.

Smart People also intentionally makes its cast look plain, as if in an attempt to legitimize the characters’ intelligence. Everyone looks like hell. Teacher crush or not, there’s no way that a young doctor would find a wizened, dumpy social idiot like Lawrence worthy of a date.

And for Lawrence, who’s really only looking for some trophy tail, there’s no reason he’d find Sarah Jessica Parker’s Janet “beautiful,” as he says, when she’s thrown into frumpy JCPenney ensembles topped with a stringy mop of hair. Young Republican Vanessa looks like a campaign bunny for Barry Goldwater, despite the film being set in the present, and Church’s face is defiled by a vile moustache.

Yet despite these characters’ ugliness inside and out, we’re supposed to root for their happiness?

I don’t think so.

Smart People

Comedy, Romance / English

95 min.

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By Hannah Bae Contributing Writer [hannahbae@gmail.com]
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