What’s it like being stupid?
What’s it like sitting alone at lunch every day?
The downside to library borrowing is happening in front of my eyes. Or rather, it’s frozen in front of my eyes in the form of Ellen Page. Well, I guess it could be worse. Oh, just got worse. Now it’s Thomas Haden Church with a mustache. Yes, the movie is skipping and I can’t hear or make sense of the dialogue. Evil is a scratch on a dvd. It’s also an anagram for veil, vile, and live.
Smart People (2008), directed by Noam Murro, is about some miserable people. Dr. Lawrence Weatherhold (Dennis Quaid) is a miserable English professor. Vanessa (Page) is his miserable daughter. James (Ashton Holmes) the son and slightly less miserable because he’s the rebel (and poet) in the family. Chuck (Church) is the loser adopted brother to Lawrence. After a fall and seizure, Dr. W goes to the hospital where he meets Janet (Sarah Jessica Parker). Love-ish story a la As Good As It Gets (1997) ensues. Lawrence is totally self-involved and he’s a snob. Vanessa is taking after him in her desperate need to impress him and that leaves her without any friends. James is a stranger in the place and spends most of his time with the fam bickering. Chuck takes on the role of the stupid fool. He might not have your book learnin’ but he knows a little about normal.
The obvious draw to this movie is that it’s hilarious. If you like vicious sarcasm. And I do. Good work, Mark Poirier. And good work Ellen Page. Ellen and I have this really funny thing going. She’ll like changes her cell phone number and I’ll have to track it down again or sometimes when I show up at her house she calls the cops and acts like she doesn’t know me. Things got a little tense last summer when I tried to help towel her off at the beach and she tasered me, but I think we’ve grown closer since then. Okay, none of that really happened, obviously. real stalkers don’t like using as much punctuation as I do. Stream of consciousness is probably more their thing. Still, Page is phenomenal and she’s phenomenal here. She plays a vulnerable jerk and does it simply.
Quaid plays this guys very gruff. There are some miserable jerks that we really want to like. This isn’t one of them. I think because all the best material went to Page and Church, Poirier couldn’t really muster enough wit for Quaid. He’s got it, certainly, but not enough to make him the victim of his own intelligence. He’s almost always the bully and he uses his brain as a cudgel. It doesn’t actually bully anyone, but I think Lawrence believes he does. This all seems to show that Quaid did a good job in playing the role, but I’m not sure it really points to a good character. Well you’re wrong, because it is a good character, it’s just a bit more under-the-top than we’re used to.
Parker has the opportunity here to be something more than an object for Quaid, but she doesn’t really take it. I’m not really a fan, and so there’s the distinct possibility that I’ve undervalued her. Quaid was allowed to play his role muted because he got the most screen time. She, however, had to make an impression with far less opportunity. She failed to do so. Again, her material was pedestrian. Still, that’s the job.
Church does splendidly, but great glittering Christ that mustache has got to go. No human would ever let that thing grow like that. Other than that, Church is hilarious. I can’t really tell how he’s playing this any differently than anything else I’ve seen him in, but you can’t argue with results.
There’s something funny about smart people in movies. It says a lot about the people writing the script. To write about someone who is smart says that the writer thinks that he or she is smart. Sometimes they’re right, sometimes they’re not. They usually come to the same conclusion: that being smart is a burden. My favorite line from Broadcast News (1987) takes that tack. “It must be nice,” says Paul, “to always believe you know better, to always think you’re the smartest person in the room.” Jane replies, “No. It’s awful.” She’s so sad and honest when she says it. Wonderful. Once Lawrence realizes that it’s awful, he becomes much more sympathetic. I guess that’s development.
Oh, and whoever designed the cover to this film should be shot.