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Professor Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid) might be imperiously brilliant, monumentally self-possessed and an intellectual giant -- but when it comes to solving the conundrums of love and family, he's as downright flummoxed as the next guy. His teenaged daughter (Ellen Page) is an acid-tongued overachiever who follows all too closely in dad's misery-loving footsteps, and his adopted, preposterously ne'er-do-well brother (Thomas Haden Church) has perfected the art of freeloading. A widower who can't seem to find passion in anything anymore, not even the Victorian Literature in which he's an expert, it seems Lawrence is sleepwalking through a very stunted middle age. When his brother shows up unexpectedly for an extended stay at just about the same time as he accidentally encounters his former student Janet (Sarah Jessica Parker), the circumstances cause him to stir from his deep, deep freeze, with often comical, sometimes heartbreaking, consequences for himself and everyone around him.
For more about Smart People and the Smart People Blu-ray release, see Smart People Blu-ray Review published by Lindsay Mayer on August 21, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Thomas Haden Church, Ellen Page, Ashton Holmes, David Denman
Director: Noam Murro
» See full cast & crew
Smart People Blu-ray Review
The courtship ritual of the rare 'Homo provectus' is captured on Blu-ray
Reviewed by Lindsay Mayer, August 21, 2008
Smart People is a film that, one would imagine, shows what exactly happens to the intellectual crowd if they never left the world of academia. It is a quirky little slice-of-life "dramedy" with Dennis Quaid and Sarah Jessica Parker at its helm, as two highly intelligent yet emotionally inept individuals left over from love. Taking as its setting one bleak, wet winter in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Smart People takes the audience on a few interesting turns in its path of stilted, awkward romance.
Quaid stars as Lawrence Wetherhold, a college professor specializing in Victorian literature and critical theory of said stories. Highly intelligent, to be sure, but also highly out of touch with most everyone in his life - his students, co-workers, even his own children. A widower and oblivious (or simply in deep denial) to his own misery, Lawrence is flustered when his freeloading adopted brother Chuck (Thomas Hayden Church) suddenly plops back into his life. In true film fashion, Lawrence suffers a fall that forces him to depend on Chuck's assistance for the next several months, so among much hemming and hawing, the ne'er-do-well sibling moves in with the professor and his overachieving 17 year old daughter Vanessa, played by a pre-Juno Ellen Page.
Chuck has not been around Lawrence's family for years, and he plays witness to a tremendous amount of tightly-wound, can't-be-bothered behavior from his brother and his niece, who is following right in daddy's footsteps. Since the death of Mrs. Wetherhold many years ago, Vanessa has since become the pseudo-wife and the perfect daughter, striving to earn the approval of her sourpuss role model of a father. Even the film's mise–en–scène testifies to this; Vanessa's neatly-kept bedroom is wallpapered with blue ribbons and framed certificates of achievement. Chuck, being the antipodal personality to Lawrence, is of average intelligence, but much more emotionally intuitive. Whether he truly wants to help the family or just have fun bugging his niece, Chuck begins to chip away at Vanessa' hard veneer of brainy arrogance. Coolly deflecting any snarky comments lobbed his way, Chuck pesters the uptight teenager into having a bit of fun, daring to be deviant every once in a while.
Meanwhile, Lawrence's coursework is compounded by his search for a publisher for his manuscript on critical theory in literature - a dry, high-minded piece that has unsurprisingly been turned down by dozens of prospects. He also has a mind to become head of his department, despite the fact that the entire staff despises him. When his fall lands him in the emergency ward, Lawrence comes across Janet, the ER's head physician and, though he does not recall at the time, a former student of his. Janet has harbored a bit of a crush on the professor since her college days, despite the fact that his harsh evaluation of her freshman paper led her to drop English as a major and switch to biology.
Naturally, a courtship of sorts begins between the two, but it is painfully awkward at first because of Lawrence's inability to connect on a human level, so caught up he has become with himself in the years since his wife died. I can't recall just how many times the word "pompous" was used within this 95 minute film. After some misunderstanding and the usual sullen period on the part of the female lead, relationships are patched up and all the better for it.
Smart People is an enjoyable film at the outset, though it seems to fall apart somewhat under further scrutiny. As the director states, the film is about "damaged people." But that particular theme has been covered many times over, in countless other films! Although the writing is quite sharp and relentlessly dry and witty, the execution of the film seems rather mundane. The stereotypical intellects that are unable to emote or let loose and have fun are here, obviously. As are the freespirited, fun-loving comic relief, and the love interest hurt by failed romance in the past. As an aside, the Wetherhold son James (Ashton Holmes) is more in touch with humanity and the world at large, and he is hardly seen because, like any "sane" person, he has struck out on his own and left the miserable family abode behind him!
To its benefit, Smart People is actually quite enjoyable in its own right, and yes, ultimately uplifting. It features some marvelous performances from Page and Church especially. Its brand of humor may not be for everyone, and its largely derived from poking fun at the stiffness of the brainy characters, but it is well-written and genuinely funny.
Smart People Blu-ray, Video Quality
Smart People is sharp not only in its dialogue, but in its excellent picture quality as well. With a transfer that is becoming signature of Disney and Buena Vista releases, the film is delightfully clear, with ample amounts of film grain and well-preserved detail. Being a dialogue-driven film, Smart People is shot in a rather straightforward manner, consisting mostly of mid-range shots to close-ups. Encoded in AVC that averages about 20 Mbps, the resultant picture on this release does on excellent job of capturing the worn look of cheerless houses, the texture of Vanessa's many quirky outfits, and the world-weary facade of unfulfilled characters like Janet and Lawrence.
Though not among the most colorful of films ever made, the subtly-lit hues are depicted very well on this Blu-ray Disc. Autumnal in its color palette as well as its setting, the film's broodiness is faithfully preserved. Blacks are rich and inky, never showing crush problems or appearing too gray. The whitest points, usually originating from natural light streaming indoors, never go out of range or seem unnaturally bright. Video artifacts never present an annoyance, either. Overall, this is a stellar visual presentation, proving that even humble indie features can shine on high definition.
Smart People Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Given an aural treatment that is more than adequate for its story, Smart People comes encoded with a lossless PCM 5.1 track, as well as a Dolby Digital 5.1 track - another feature that is becoming the release standard for Buena Vista titles. The PCM track, at nearly 7 Mbps, is certainly as encompassing a mix as one can get in a film that heavily relies on talking heads. Nuno Bettencourt's score plunks in here and there to nice effect, but overall the soundscape is as dry as the film's humor. Utilizing the center channel for much of the dialogue, the uncompressed sound still seemed hard-pressed to pick up the sometimes murmuring dialogue of characters as they headed off-screen, or away from the camera. After a while, I found it more convenient to leave the subtitles on, rather than backing up and checking what someone just burbled about literary theory in Victorian texts.
Sound equalization is very good on the film overall, however. The few blaring moments or rapid cuts from quiet scenes to busier sequences did not leave one reeling for the master volume remote. For what it is, Smart People has a decent mix featured here on the Blu-ray release, and the lossless audio does admittedly bring greater clarity to the film's sound and dialogue, however subtle it may be in parts.
Smart People Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Blu-ray release of Smart People features a modest array of supplemental features, which are fairly standard in their variety. Not So Smart is a two minute blooper reel of flubbed lines and the recurring, inexplicable giggle fits that the cast find themselves caught in. Deleted Scenes feature 9 short sequences that total ten minutes; mostly inconsequential, some are scenes that were merely shortened in the final film, or scenes concerning plot points that were fleshed out elsewhere.
A single featurette entitled The Smartest People and shown in 4x3 standard definition, spends 16 minutes with director Noam Murro, writer Mark Jude Poirier, and the cast as they reflect on the film's settings, themes, and characters. Pittsburgh is an unusual U.S. film setting, as is a campus like the Carnegie Mellon University, which is more modern and straightforward in its architecture. Profiles of each character are given and mused upon, as well as the prominent theme of emotionally stunted behavior amongst the more intellectual of them. An Audio Commentary with Smart People's director and writer consists of the typical musings from the filmmakers; relevant (and not-so-relevant) comments on the story's events and its people - be they the actors or the characters - are given as the film's scenes meander by.
Finally, Trailers for the Blu-ray release of The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian are featured on the forefront, followed by a theatrical trailer for the upcoming Miramax film Blindness. "On Blu-ray Disc" and a Miramax Films compilation ad for current and upcoming Blu-ray releases finish off the sneak peeks, which are all displayed in high definition.
Smart People Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Smart People will fly under the radar for most of the moviegoing public at large. Upon its theatrical release, the film was run in a typical limited "indie" fashion, on only a few hundred screens at the most. Its home video release is also without any fanfare or hullabaloo, but that's just as well. A quiet film that treads familiar ground, Smart People nonetheless has great performances from much of its cast, and a good brand of witty humor as its attributes. The Blu-ray Disc features excellent picture quality and a good assortment of extra features. Seek this film out at least once - it deserves more attention than it has received thus far, in this reviewer's humble opinion.
Smart People: Other Editions
Smart People Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Disney Announces Smart People Blu-ray - June 9, 2008
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment has announced that they will bring the comedy 'Smart People' to Blu-ray on August 12th, day-and-date with the DVD release. This film comes the producers of 'Sideways' and stars Dennis Quaid. Video will be presented in 2.40:1 ...
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