Smart People (2008) *1/2**

Rated: R
Runtime: 1hr 35min
Director: Noam Murro
Stars: Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ellen Page, Thomas Haden Church
Genre: Comedy
Language: English

A Lesson Learned for a Curmudgeonly Professor

In a Nutshell


Straight as an Arrow

Sound Quality

Easy to Hear

Who's That?

Few Main Characters

Naughty Words


Naked people




It’s hard to warm to a comedy, as dark as it’s intended to be, whose main character is a curmudgeon of the highest order, a Carnegie Mellon English professor who looks on his students with contempt, and life as a painful ordeal.

Dennis Quaid plays the part well, right up until the end, when he undergoes a social and intellectual reawakening, thanks to the unlikely love interest of Sarah Jessica Parker, a former student.

But until that point there is predictability about the film, whose main characters have a high academic IQ but little idea what life is all about.

It’s a sometimes movie: sometimes funny, sometimes smart, sometimes boring, sometimes gripping, sometimes ho-hum.

The dialogue, by the screenwriter Mark Jude Poirier, works well in individual scenes and exchanges, but it lacks an overall cohesiveness.

The widowered and pompous Quaid shares his house with his 17-year-old daughter, the delightful Ellen Page. A bright young thing who is obsessed, like her father, with academic excellence, she is, however, clever enough to know that he is often on the wrong tracks.

Thankfully, Quaid’s adopted brother, played by Thomas Haden Church, unexpectedly moves in. He is clearly never welcomed by Quaid, but it’s thanks to Church, a rough-hewn, unshaved loser, that the movie gets its feet on the ground and gains a measure of hilarity, not to mention reality.

He seems to be the only character that has seen life and lived it. Although he ranks low on the social totem pole, particularly where Quaid is concerned, he is happy being who he is. He survives through various low-end business ventures and borrowing money from a disdainful Quaid, who never loses the opportunity to remind Church that he is his “adopted brother,” not the real thing.

Quaid’s arrogance is of the kind that he thinks nothing of taking up two parking spaces when he pulls in at Carnegie Mellon. His attempt to stop his car from being towed away leaves him injured and in the emergency room.

There he comes face to face with a former student who has become a doctor. Typically, Quaid can’t remember her, but for Parker, her undergraduate crush on the professor is not far from the surface, although the connection comes across as contrived.

Parker, a caring, successful woman, seems hardly the type to have been holding on to a fondness for a man so dedicated to demeaning just about everybody he has ever known.

But she allows her fondness to show, and Quaid responds at first in the way he knows best: by talking about himself, leaving Parker to ponder who this man really is, or what he might become.

By the movie’s end we all find out, but the process seems slow and essentially inevitable.

A lifelong journalist, Terence Neilan started his career in his home country, England, and then moved to New York in 1970. After a couple of years as an editor at The New York Post, he moved to The New York Times, where he worked as an editor and Website reporter for 29 years, retiring in 2005.


Steve Powers said on April 18, 2008


Thanks. I was wondering whether to see this flick…and your review convinced me…”Never mind!” As a senior citizen I’m sick of the stereotyping in films and elsewhere and withholding my admission price is my way of protesting. Besides…Sara Jessica Parker as a love interest?… please. She can do us a favor by not flirting with seniors and more importantly keeping her clothes on.

Love the new site.

Seniors, speak up! Let us know what you think.

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