(No longer in theaters)
Comedy, Drama, Romance
Bill Block, Michael Costigan, Bridget Johnson, Michael London, Bruna Papandrea
Apr 11, 2008
The middling romantic comedy Smart People, which centers on a hyperintellectual dysfunctional family, is of interest chiefly for the first post-Juno role of Ellen Page. A prominent critic dubbed the actress “frighteningly talented,” and it remains to be seen which side will win out: the talented or the frightening. As the straitlaced Young Republican daughter of a misanthropic professor (Dennis Quaid), she talks much like Juno, in an exaggeratedly blasé monotone with certain words stretched out to convey that she’s thinking. She stands back from her character’s emotions—she irons her lines out with irony. This worked in Hard Candy, where she mocked her pedophile captive with sociological clichés, and in Juno, where the point was to show that however adult the pregnant teen talked, her feelings were a tangle. (It was a point that “It”-girl screenwriter Diablo Cody blunted by giving nearly everyone else the same inflections.) Here it kind of works, but the echoes get in the way. Will she prove talented enough—like, say, Katharine Hepburn—to transcend her mannerisms?
The script by Mark Poirier doesn’t help by pulling Page’s character out of mothballs: the uptight female who needs to be loosened up, in this case by Quaid’s wastrel adopted brother (Thomas Haden Church)—who introduces her to pot and alcohol. The brother also worries that as a member of the Young Republicans, she has “never cheated or stole anything.” (Insert your own Republican joke here.) It’s a good thing that Church’s groggy rhythms are so winning, and that Quaid freshens up the musty alcoholic professor (who seems inspired by Simon Gray’s Butley) with his unquenchably youthful petulance. The movie, directed by Noam Murro, has its bright spots—or, rather, its brightly dark spots, since it’s best at its nastiest. When Quaid falls for a doctor who was once his student (a low-key and appealing Sarah Jessica Parker) and begins to emerge from his stupor, Smart People puts you into one, with everyone wisecracking through tears.