Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

‘Mighty Unpleasant People’ would’ve been a more accurate title for this movie ‘Smart People’ because it really wasn’t a lot of fun spending quality time with these folks. Any of them. Now I’m sure this was the purpose of this exercise in family dysfunction directed by Noam Murro but possessing this knowledge didn’t make my time spent with these cats anymore enjoyable.

Lawrence Weatherhold PhD (Dennis Quaid) is an asshole. No two ways about it. The widowed professor of literature is rude to his students, he’s rude to his colleagues, he seems to exist with a god-given sense of entitlement and as far as I can tell he barely tolerates his children. Lawrence has a brother in Chuck (Thomas Haden Church). Or should I say an ‘adopted’ brother since Lawrence can’t say Chuck’s name with mentioning the fact that he’s adopted. On a personal note it just so happens that my little sister is adopted and yet I can’t remember ever in one single day of our lives hearing anybody ever referring to her as our ‘adopted’ whatever. Even on our worst days, and we’ve had some bad days me and babygirl, has the woman been anything other than my bratty, head strong, strong willed completely unreasonable baby sister with the word ‘adopted’ never coming into play. Then maybe that was just us. Regardless, the reason that Lawrence makes it a point to tell anyone who will listen that Chuck is adopted is because he’s not all that smart and is a bit irresponsible, but I think this was supposed to make us like him more than the rest of the unlikable Weatherhold’s.

Speaking of the rest of the Weatherhold’s we have Lawrence’s dry, acerbic, brutally intelligent and all together unpleasant seventeen year old daughter Vanessa (Ellen Page) and her older brother James (Ashton Holmes) who is all things that Vanessa plus the added personality traits of bitter and angry. Anyway, patriarch Lawrence bangs his

head on some concrete doing something not becoming of a smart person which has the dual effect of requiring that his adopted brother move in to chauffeur him around town and also has reacquainted Lawrence with a former student in his attending Doctor Janet Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker) who it seemed had a crush on the professor back in the day despite the lousy, insult laden final grade he gave her in her freshman year of college.

Regardless there is love there between the two. Why there’s love there I can’t tell you. But they are having sex. Why they’re having sex I can’t really tell you why that is either because I don’t think I can recall Dr. Weatherhold making any actions remotely deserving of receiving some poo other than being his usual asshole self. He did buy dinner however. I have been out the loop for a while, married since the beginning of time, but if buying a woman dinner is all you need to close a deal nowadays I need to jump back in the game with a quickness. Not that Dr. Hartigan is all that pleasant to be around either. Meanwhile adopted brother Chuck has been working to bring young republican Vanessa out of her shell by coercing the child into smoking weed and getting her drunk. Though this has succeeded in loosening the kid up a bit, the unfortunate side effect is that she now lusts after her uncle. He is adopted though and thusly if Chuck were down with this, which he doesn’t seem to be, the whole inbreeding thing won’t be an issue. Big brother James on the other hand is just continues to be pissed off.

What this is all leading to is some kind or resolution where we hope Dr. Weatherhold can finally get over his dead wife, stop being an asshole, and try to find love with his somewhat unpleasant Doctor girlfriend. Hopefully Vanessa can find love with someone who she’s not related to and James… well, James didn’t have all that much to do in this movie so we’ll just assume he’s going to die pissed off and angry.

So I really didn’t like ‘Smart People’ all that much, mainly because there wasn’t anything for me to grab a hold to. I could’ve cared less if Dr. Weatherford found love or got that job he wanted or got his book published. First born son James started out the movie pissed off and pretty much ended it that way with the ‘normal’ character in the movie, that being adopted brother Chuck, does things such as getting underage emotionally repressed girls drunk and high and then is shocked when she grafts to him. One of the things that I guess drew me to this particular film is that I am the offspring of unnaturally smart people with a PhD Fullbright scholar for a mother and a multiple degreed father, not to mention a collection of uncles and aunts with doctorates and MD’s and whatnot, all of who I think are mighty strange people who probably need a movie made about them. Other than the sober realization that in my family this intelligence obviously skips a generation, they are all generally still very nice people with a minimum of assholeness in the collective, unlike the Weatherhold’s who across the board are quite honestly some of the most unpleasant folks you will ever want to pass ninety minutes of movie time with. Not that there aren’t families as miserable as these guys, though I don’t know them, it just seems I don’t enjoy watching families as miserable as these on a movie screen.

Of course with a cast headlined by Dennis Quaid, Ellen Page and Thomas Haden Church, the acting is stellar and thus we can safely assume that director Murro got out of his highly skilled acting crew exactly what he wanted in his steady paced drama, but other than the entertainment value of watching some good actors do some good work, there really wasn’t much to enjoy about ‘Smart People’ outside of being overjoyed that your family has to be better than the lives of these people, at least a little bit.

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