Sunday, April 13, 2008

Smart People in Crisis

Noam Murro's Smart People (2008), set around Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University, stars Dennis Quaid, Ellen Page, Thomas Haden Church, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Ashton Holmes. This is the latest in the "dazed & confused academic/artist-in-existential-crisis" genre, and as such, measures in fair order alongside Wonder Boys (2000), The Squid and the Whale (2005), and The Savages (2007). If you saw any of those and didn't like the experience, you probably won't like this one, either. I do like all of them -- taken together or separately -- mostly for their wry renderings of academics in their element. These are not films pitched as blockbusters, not by any means. They deal with emotional issues and intergenerational conflict without dramatic car chases or wild bursts of physical violence. But they get the job done. All of these films admirably use subtle details of place and lifestyle to underscore their plot lines and character development.

In Smart People, Thomas Haden Church and Sarah Jessica Parker play the change agents inflitrating the petrified ivory tower lives of Dennis Quaid's embittered and morose (and sometimes cringe-worthy) character, English professor Wetherhold, and his daughter Vanessa (Ellen Page). These latter two are thawed a bit, but not drastically, which is one of the things that makes Smart People an independent film. (Ashton Holmes gets to play Vanessa's better adjusted brother who also happens to write poetry on the sly.) There are flashes of knowing humor, but this is not by any means a ha-ha comedy -- more like a slice of the academic lifestyle at middle age.

Today's Rune: Flow.


Sidney said...

Christine and I went to see this this afternoon. Enjoyed it a lot. You're right, not laugh out loud but a nice slice of life journey with these characters.

lulu said...

That sounds good. I loved Wonder Boys, although I thought the book was far better than the movie.

Lana Gramlich said...

Thanks for the info. I was thinking I might like that movie. (I'll wait for it to come out on satellite.)

Charles Gramlich said...

I haven't seen any of these, though I might well benefit from doing so.