Above average 

‘Smart People’ doesn’t live up to its billing.


Take the script for “Sideways,” replace the bottled-up wine snob with a dusty literature snob, take out the road trip, keep Thomas Haden Church, take out most of the comedy and a bit of the depth, and what you're left with is, in a nutshell, “Smart People.”

“Smart People” is about the trials and humiliations of Dr. Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid), a smug lit professor with a similarly smug genius daughter (Ellen Page), a distant son (Ashton Holmes), and a ne'er-do-well estranged brother (Church). Lawrence is scrabbling both to win the position of department chair and to land a publishing contract for his book, but his myopic focus on academic glory is shaken in a single day after two things happen: His brother resurfaces and he seriously injures himself climbing a fence.

Lawrence wakes up in the E.R. under the care of Dr. Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker), a former student. Because of his injury, he will not be allowed to drive for six months, effectively tethering him to his brother as an unpaid chauffeur. Meanwhile his daughter, a humorless, friendless young Republican, continues her own monomaniacal pursuit of success (a perfect SAT score and acceptance at Stanford), and his son quietly distances himself from both of them.

As you're probably guessing, Lawrence will pursue salvation through romance with the young doctor, the daughter will discover how to lighten up through time spent with Lawrence's brother, and the son ... well, the son doesn't actually do much of anything, which is a bit of a disappointment.

The movie has entertaining, smart and funny moments, but not as many as you'll want it to have. It tries very hard to be the spiritual successor to films like “Sideways” and “Wonder Boys,” but it doesn't quite make it there, doesn't delve deeply enough into the lives of its characters, and occasionally even trades what could be authentic laughs for mockery. We are intended to feel a small stab of contempt for Lawrence and his daughter before we are allowed access to their humanity, but to that end the film (and the actors themselves) give us just this side of vapid caricatures of elitist intellects that don't mesh well with the people we are to meet later.

My biggest complaint and praise for the movie, then, is this: It left me wanting more. I wanted to see more of what Lawrence's daughter suffers through, more of what's behind his brother's aimless existence, more of frankly anything out of his son, who's more of a plot device than a character and yet is potentially more interesting than most of the rest of his family. “Smart People” keeps coming right up to the edge of giving us some of that but backs away as the next plot point presents itself, and in the end, it's not very satisfying.

Matthew Reed


From the ArkTimes store


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Matthew Reed

Readers also liked…

  • Not much to 'Love'

    In Judd Apatow's new Netflix original series.
    • Feb 25, 2016

Most Shared

  • Executionpalooza

    Appearances count. I was struck by a single sentence over the weekend in a full page of coverage in The New York Times devoted to the killing spree in Arkansas, beginning with a front-page account of the recent flurry of legal filings on pending executions and continuing inside with an interview with Damien Echols, the former death row inmate.
  • Art bull

    "God, I hate art," my late friend The Doctor used to say.
  • Not justice

    The strongest, most enduring calls for the death penalty come from those who feel deeply the moral righteousness of "eye-for-an-eye" justice, or retribution. From the depths of pain and the heights of moral offense comes the cry, "The suffering you cause is the suffering you shall receive!" From the true moral insight that punishment should fit the crime, cool logic concludes, "Killers should be killed." Yet I say: retribution yes; death penalty no.
  • Judge Griffen writes about morality, Christian values and executions

    Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen, who blogs at Justice is a verb!, sends along a new post this morning.
  • The Ledell Lee execution thread

    Arkansas Times contributor Jacob Rosenberg is at the Cummins Unit in Grady filing dispatches tonight in advance of the expected execution of Ledell Lee, who was sentenced to death for the Feb. 9, 1993, murder of Debra Reese, 26, who was beaten to death in the bedroom of her home in Jacksonville.

Latest in Movie Reviews

Visit Arkansas

Haralson, Smith named to Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame

Haralson, Smith named to Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame

Chuck Haralson and Ken Smith were inducted into the Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame during the 43rd annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism

Event Calendar

« »


2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation