Smart People

While I was waiting in the (very long and slow-moving) line at the concession stand for this one, I saw a friend of mine, who, naturally, asked what I was there to see. She hadn’t heard of this movie, so asked the natural follow-up question: What’s it about? And I wasn’t sure. I’d seen the preview, but was kind of at a loss to sum it up. I finally ended up calling it a romantic comedy, even though I don’t like that term. That turned out to be not such a great description, but I’m still not quite sure what else to call it. There’s been kind of a trend the last few years for such movies — maybe they’re supposed to be ‘slice of life’ films or something, meant to defy categorization, but honestly, sometimes those just annoy me.
I’m still deciding if this one annoyed me or not. Dennis Quaid is Lawrence Wetherhold, an English professor at Carnegie Mellon University in beautiful Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was widowed some years ago, leaving him with two kids to raise, and apparently making him into even more of a self-centered jerk than he was when his wife was alive. He talks down to his students, habitually parks his wreck of a car across two parking spaces, and can’t remember the names of even those students he has in multiple classes because he just doesn’t care. Basically, he’s like the professor I got stuck with for my Shakespeare class, who came frighteningly close to making me hate Shakespeare just because of those terrible associations.
His kids, James (Ashton Holmes) and Vanessa (Ellen Page, the newest hot actress thanks to Juno), haven’t turned out so great. James (from what I could tell; his character wasn’t really on screen much) carries around a huge pile of resentment against his dad, pouting and rebelling against his staid ways. He describes his sister as “the perfect little homemaker — I mean, daughter,” which sums her up nicely. She’s the ultimate overachiever, and I kept expecting the film to mention her addiction to diet pills or something, because she can’t possibly ever have slept. Besides cleaning and cooking (nice meals, like Beef Stroganoff with mashed potatoes), she is active in the Young Republicans, the Honor Society, and the Model U.N., when she isn’t busy striving for the perfect SAT score. She also gets called an android, and she is a lot like a Stepford Wife.

The perfect dysfunctional family dinner. You know the type.

When Lawrence has a seizure because of his parking habits (really), he’s prohibited from driving for at least six months, by Janet Hartigan, the ER doctor who treats him (Sarah Jessica Parker, who reminds me of Julia Roberts in that I’m never sure why people think she’s so gorgeous). She was also a student of his, though of course he doesn’t remember, and he was responsible for making her change majors from English to biology. If that isn’t a sign of deep trauma, I don’t know what is.
In spite of how disgusted she is with him all the time, they start dating. Meanwhile, to help out with driving, Lawrence’s adopted brother (and no, they never miss the chance to throw in that word ‘adopted’), moves in. He’s Lawrence’s opposite — can’t hold down a job, drinks, smokes pot, and can’t even remember when he’s supposed to pick his brother up. But since he’s played by the Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) I wouldn’t have expected him to be much help. Basically, he’s just there to help Lawrence realize how screwed up his life is.
So I did laugh now and then, but it really isn’t a comedy, romantic or otherwise. The acting is all very good, and Dennis Quaid looks better with the beard, because that keeps him from looking so much like he’s sucking on a lemon between takes. And yet I’m still not quite sure what to rate this thing. I feel like I should have liked it, but I kind of didn’t. Maybe it just tries to do too much, and overextends itself, because I didn’t really connect with any of the characters. On the purely technical side, it isn’t very well edited, which was distracting. Of course, what do I know — I whiled away the seventy-three hours I was stuck watching The Aviator by counting the number of bad edits, and that flick won an Oscar for editing.
So, I don’t know — three idols, I guess. A safe, middle of the road sort of rating. I’m thinking it just wasn’t quite my kind of movie, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be hugely popular — in fact, it almost guarantees it. So if you like those indefineable movies, or like ‘family dramas’, I guess is the term, give this one a try. And let me know if it annoys you or not.