Smart People on DVD

Smart People on DVD. In the bonus feature interviews, director Noam Murro describes this film as a “human comedy.” Is this a new oxymoron given that the human condition is primarily based on tragedy? Murro’s film is filled with depressed, miserable people, not the usual stuff of comedies. The lead character is a widowed professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. At work, he has lost his passion for teaching English, can’t get his latest book published, yet covets becoming head of the department. At home, he’s still in denial about the loss of his wife, ignores his college-age son and doesn’t recognize that his teenage daughter has no friends or goals besides getting into Stanford so that she can get away from this corrosive environment. Two events conspire to change his life: first, he suffers a concussion and finds out that his ER doctor is a former student who had a crush on him. Acting out-of-character he asks her for a date and they begin a relationship. Second, his broke, adopted brother crashes in his house and attempts to shake some life into his and the daughter’s morbid existence. The audience is supposed to believe that the professor eventually recognizes the dysfunctional lifestyle he’s leading through the assistance of the doctor and his brother, mends his relationships with his children, regains his zest for teaching and ends up happy and with smiles all around.

It’s a good cast (Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ellen Page, and Thomas Haden Church), decent dialogue, pretty scenic shots, but only intermittent laughs and tepid pacing.

Movie trivia fans will note that although the Steel City is not known as a movie-making mecca, this is the second Pittsburgh-based film for Parker. She also starred with Bruce Willis in 1993’s river police action film Striking Distance. Those interested in another movie with a Carnegie Mellon English professor overcoming personal and professional problems might consider 2000’s Wonder Boys, starring Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, Frances McDormand, Robert Downey Jr., and Katie Holmes. Personally, I enjoyed both of these a lot more than Smart People.


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