Dark comedies, when done well, strike a nice balance between drama and finely tuned touches of humor. Smart People is a dark comedy minus the humor.
Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid) is a crotchety English professor who, after suffering an injury, meets a doctor who turns out be one of his old students, Janet (Sarah Jessica Parker). Meanwhile, Lawrence’s seriousness and pomposity have rubbed off on his daughter Vanessa (Ellen Page), who is obsessed with getting a perfect SAT score and attending Stanford. And then there’s Chuck (Thomas Hayden Church), Lawrence’s adopted brother who moves in because he has nowhere else to go.
The story sets up Lawrence and Vanessa as intelligent but misguided people who are taught life lessons by Janet and Chuck, respectively. There is no tangible conflict, which isn’t a bad thing, as it makes the film seem more authentic.
The film’s issues begin to show because the glum tone rarely lets up. By the end, the viewer is so sulky that the tacked-on happy ending draws contemptuous scoffs. Even worse, it’s nearly impossible to like any of the characters because all they do is frown. Expect a few laughs from Chuck; he’s the only bright spot among the otherwise depressed caricatures.
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