More to happiness than what you’ve been taught

Sweet, simple Smart People, characters find they have lots to learn

Smart People
(ends Thurs., June 26) Starring Dennis Quaid, Thomas Haden Church, Sarah Jessica Parker and Ellen Page. Directed by Noam Murro. Rated R.
Rated 3.0

Intelligence doesn’t equal happiness.

That’s the main gist of Smart People, a film that revolves around the bitter, boring life of Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid), an unpopular literature prof at Carnegie Mellon.

“Do you think I’m self-absorbed?” he asks his college-bound daughter, Vanessa (Ellen Page). “Self-absorption is under-rated,” she replies. Through conversations like this one, the characters not only show their love (or hate) for one another, but also the comedic way in which director Noam Murro approaches the topic of unhappiness.

Vanessa clearly loves her father the way he is, which, since his wife’s death a few years back, has been lonely and bored and emotionally unconnected to the world. Vanessa herself is an extension of her dad, preferring to head the Young Republicans club and ace her SATs than make friends.

An accident that sends Lawrence to the ER with a seizure provokes the change he and his daughter need. They’re a little too comfortable with their routine, and Lawrence’s adopted brother, Chuck (Thomas Haden Church), is just the guy to shake things up. The ER doctor, Janet (Sarah Jessica Parker), also jumps into the picture as Lawrence’s potential love interest.

The story plods along, never boring but never picking up any substantial speed either. You get the feeling you’re seeing these people at their most vulnerable, which serves to break down any preconceived notions of who they are.

Quaid, a naturally strong and handsome man, is wonderful here, playing the pained, almost meek Lawrence, walking with a limp and preferring to exercise his mental muscles than those used for actual activity. Page is quite good, too—she’s hands down the best smart-ass to hit the screen in a while. Even Church, who plays the not-so-smart addition to the family, has some pearls of wisdom to impart along with the keggers and joints.

In the end, Smart People is about, well, smart people who have a bit more to learn about life. For those of us who didn’t get a perfect score on our SATs, that’s a relief.