Slamming a movie for having smug, unlikable characters may reflect the viewer’s prejudices more than the filmmaking quality, but it’s difficult to avoid that charge with Smart People, which takes uncommon glee in redeeming smug, unlikable characters. Lawrence Wetherhold (Quaid) is a coasting widower professor who can’t get anyone to publish his book and who parks crooked just for the hell of it. Vanessa (Page) is his overachieving, Young Republican daughter, who hands out pamphlets titled Stem Cell Research—The Wrong Choice. (“What is it like being stupid?” she asks a peer in one of her more social moments.)
Together, they’ll learn from Lawrence’s adopted brother (Haden Church) that slacking and getting high can be pleasurable; Lawrence will embark on a relationship with his doctor (Parker), who cares for him after an incident at the impound lot. Wonder Boys covered nearly identical turf, down to the Carnegie Mellon setting, but not every line sounded like a Sundance contrivance. What saves Smart People, at least in part, is its cast:The way Quaid sells his character’s misanthropy (Lawrence’s book proceeds from the assumption “that every theory of criticism has failed us”) is a model of dry understatement. It’s almost enough for a passing grade.
Cast and crew
Sarah Jessica Parker
Thomas Haden Church