Saturday, 19 July 2014

Review - Smart People (2008 - Dir. Noam Murro)

Probably not one of Ellen Page's most well known films - in fact, I'd never heard of it - and despite the fact that I was hoping Super was going to be randomly selected, this is the film I've got to watch and review for her second round match against Radha Mitchell whose entry only received a not very good 3/10 (Melinda and Melinda). 

So here we go. Wait a minute, it's got Sarah Jessica Parker in it. I have a not completely irrational dislike of Parker. I saw one episode of Sex and the City and despised it. Nevertheless, I will enter this review with an open mind. An open mind ready to slate Parker.

Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid - shame it wasn't Randy Quaid, purely to give me an excuse to type the word 'Randy' and if Randy Wayne (Hold Your Breath) had been in it too, I probably would have died from a nasty bout of giddiness) erm, where was I? That last brackety bit was way too long. Ah yes, Lawrence Wetherhold is a professor who witters on and on about literature (but not the name Randy) and gets a bit too academic. His wife has died relatively recently and he lives with his daughter Vanessa (Ellen Page) and his unwelcome adopted brother Chuck (Thomas Haden Church). Due to an unfortunate accident he meets one of his ex-students (Parker) who just so happened to have had a crush on him back in the day. Romantic happenings happen.

I bet even now you know the whole plot. And you've probably got it bang on. But, in a similar fashion to horror films, it's how you get there that matters, and the characters are all important in this film.

I like Dennis Quaid. He's a bit of an unsung hero of films. Recently I've seen him in Flight of the Phoenix, Horsemen and this. And he's been pretty solid in all of them. He's spot on here with his pompous behaviour and total lack of any lady wooing skills (he doesn't even wink and click). His character does undergo a change, as you'd expect, but it's a lot more subtle than in most films of this ilk.

Ellen Page, for once, plays a different character from her usual quirky teenager type. So different in fact that she takes her dead mum's clothes to a charity shop just so that she can get a tax break. Plus she's got a picture of Ronald Reagan in her bedroom. As a consequence, she's not as likeable as she usually is. But it makes a change from her normal performances. It will be interesting to see the roles she gets in later life and watch how her acting talents develop.

The front cover of the DVD makes Thomas Haden Church's character look like a comedy uncle who is incredible fun and really wacky and zany (a bit like Russ Abbot), the sort of comedy character that makes you want to peel your eyeballs with an angle grinder (again, a bit like Russ Abbot). Mais non! He's actually funny, but again in a subtle, dry way. His humour is very dry and he doesn't have to resort to gurning to get a laugh. A way better performance than the cover would suggest.

Parker. Here she comes. Dragging the proceedings down as usual. And she does. But it's not her fault. All of the other characters fit together well: Quaid and Church look like they could be brothers and Page does a grand job being the daughter (her brother crops up too, but not very often). Although Parker's performance is a little dull and she seems severely uninterested at times, she's not actually too bad. I didn't hate her completely after seeing this. The real problem here is that there is zero chemistry between her and Quaid. Due to this lack of chemistry it seems completely preposterous that they would ever get together, especially after his behaviour at the start of the film. Something went badly wrong at the casting stage.

Luckily it doesn't completely break the film. There's enough going on to keep the interest for the entire running time. I've actually watched it twice recently and I wasn't that keen initially but it's definitely grown on me. Easily enough for Ellen Page to cruise through into the semi-finals of the FA Cup of Actors.

If you like this you could also try:
Juno, The East, Super.


  1. Thomas Haden Church is always funny. He was even funny in George of the Jungle when there was not even the slightest glimmer of hilarity on offer. Maybe he should be in next year's Champions League of Actors?

    Slightly gutted that Page is through to the semis.

    1. I thought that this was the first thing I'd seen him in but then I saw that he was in Spiderman 3. And he wasn't very funny in that. But then again, nothing was very good about that film.

      Be thankful that Portman isn't through too.