Smart People
R1 - America - Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Jeremiah Chin (12th August 2008).
The Film

In an apparent attempt to capture the small ‘widower-curmudgeon-college professor with family troubles’ demographic, Miramax has released “Smart People” (2008) a comedy about a widower curmudgeon college professor who has family troubles. Unfortunatley, not being a member of this fairly specific demographic, there’s almost nothing relatable or interesting in Noam Murro’s directorial debut as the film takes it’s underdeveloped characters far too seriously for it’s own good.

“Smart People”’s widower curmudgeon college literature professor protagonist is Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid). If you couldn’t tell by his curmudgeon-y beard and curmudgeon-y expression on the DVD cover, Wetherhold is a curmudgeon and a college professor at Carnegie Mellon whose wife died and now is dealing with family troubles. After suffering a siezure after trying to get his car out of the tow lot at the college, he no longer is able to drive himself forcing his brother Chuck (Thomas Hayden Church) to move in with Wetherland and daughter Vanessa (Ellen Paige). He soon becomes involved with Dr. Janet Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker) his initial doctor following his siesure and former student.

While the story is about people who are apparently too smart for their own social good, except for Chuck who is the quirky screw-up, the characters are more frustrating than endearing. The script, by Mark Poirier, doesn’t portray the characters speaking very naturally. Though they’re supposed to be hyper-intellectual the dialogue and vocabulary fluctuates between plain language and stiff upper-echelon academic language like erudite or echelon. Church’s character Chuck is meant to bring a level of ordinary, or sub ordinary, to the movie, but the script seems so wrapped up in its own pursuit of cleverness or wit that it just uses his character as a one dimensional foil to all of the other academics in the movie. The dialogue is even harder to listen to when the entire soundtrack is made up with very indie acoustic guitar which makes up the audio that doesn’t exactly agree with me when it feels like the same few chords and notes are running through the entire movie.

Murro’s directing gets the job done, keeping a close watch on the characters for the next smart or witty thing they are about to do, but he doesn’t get too creative to make it interesting just to watch even if it’s frustrating to listen to. There are a lot of character shots that always focus on the shoulders and face just to watch these actors talk or to simply remind the audience that this independent movie has fairly big name actors in it. Granted, either the actors or the script don’t really go beyond the initial character descriptions until the fairly predictable and trying to hard to be charming character changes near the end of the movie.

Overall, “Smart People” is a comedy-drama that tries too hard to be highbrow comedy to the point it becomes annoying and none of the characters have enough depth for me to become invested in them. Though they make an attempt to add some depth to them near the end of the film, it’s too little to late to make me start caring about them right before the movie is over.

Video

Presented in it’s 2.35:1 aspect ratio the transfer looks fine, not too much grain and otherwise clean, the colors seem fairly bland and flat on the screen. There’s not too much contrast that really brings interest, which could be the transfer, the cinematographer, director or some mystical combination of the three. Especially the early scenes in the hospital feel washed because the colors seem to bleed into each other even though the actual footage looks clean.

Audio

For the most part the English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound track is clean, you can hear that monotonous acoustic soundtrack clearly with the dialogue. All the levels and sound quality is clean for the most part, but there are some scenes where it will pop itself up or down out of sync with the rest of the movie even though there’s no real reason for it to happen in the movie even if it was meant to be intentional.
Optional subtitles in English for the hearing impaired, French and Spanish are included.

Extras

For the special features Buena Vista has included an audio commentary, a pair of featurettes, some deleted scenes and a series of bonus trailers. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

The audio commentary track features director Noam Murro and writer Mark Poirier, they spend a good deal of time talking about casting actors and how fantastic they are, the characters and story that are created, but there are far too many silences, awkward pauses and jokes that don’t work. There are some interesting production notes for an independent film, though there are so many big name stars it’s hard to see the movie as independent. There’s also some points at the end about how they tried to make academia seem more realistic than “pipes and jackets” though I felt that’s exactly the opposite of what the film did.

The first featurette is “The Smartest People” which runs for 16 minutes and 30 seconds and interviews the director, writer, producers and stars of the movie about the creation of the film, much of the awkwardness and hyper-intellectualism that becomes apparent in the movie shows it’s face again with lines like “it’s not generic neo-gothic architecture” when discussing the college campus, which seems like an overly complicated way of saying it’s not too fancy.

The next featurette is “Not so Smart” which runs for 2 minutes and 5 seconds, this blooper reel is nearly like every other blooper reel with a lot of flubbed lines and laughing from behind the camera and on set, more of the I guess you had to be there comedy.

There also are about 9 deleted scenes, are really short almost extended segments of the movie that I can see why they were cut. These scenes included are:

- “Growing publication” runs for 56 seconds, Wetherhold acts curmudgeonly getting his mail in the English department.
- “Loftier goals” runs for 1 minute and 51 seconds, Vanessa and Chuck discuss their life goals while she reads her dad’s manuscript and he tries to get her to talk about her life.
- “Too buzzed to drive” runs for 46 seconds, Chuck says he’s too buzzed to drive.
- “Application folders” runs for 53 seconds, Wetherhold asks the secretary to look through his student evaluations.
- “Discussing the attack” runs for 1 minute and 10 seconds Wetherhold teaches a class and claims he got injured in an attack.
- “Vacationing in Pittsburgh” runs for 1 minute and 8 seconds, Chuck hits on the bartender and orders beer.
- “Vanessa smoking” runs for 1 minute and 7 seconds, Vanessa gets caught smoking and blames it on Chuck.
- “Hallway belongings” runs for 52 seconds, Wetherhold comes back to his hotel room to find his belongings in the hallway.
- “Library hours” runs for 1 minute and 7 seconds, a student compliments Wetherhold in the library.

There is also some bonus trailers for:

- "Truth" anti-smoking spot runs for 32 seconds.
- "Blindness" runs for 1 minute and 38 seconds.
- "Miramax" promo spot runs for 2 minutes and 34 seconds.
- "Private Practice: the Complete First Season" runs for 1 minute.
- "Samantha Who? The Complete First Season" runs for 1 minute and 51 seconds.
- "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" runs for 2 minutes and 9 seconds.

Packaging

This disc is packaged in an amaray case housed in a cardboard slip-case.

Overall

The Film: D Video: B+ Audio: B- Extras: C Overall: C

 


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