Smart People review by Tom Blain

Two movies have cemented into my brain the significant linkage between Saab and snob. It started with Alexander Paynes 2004 film Sideways. I always take care to notice the details in Paynes films because he seems to pay close attention to them himself. In previous efforts Election and About Schmidt his mise-en-scene was filled with middle class, middle America iconography from outdated furniture to the Hummel figurines that Schmidts wife collected to the clothing of the characters. He didnt take the standard Hollywood path of creating a fairy tale set for the characters to interact within; he created what he saw as an accurate representation of the real world. So that is probably one reason why Miles Saab is forever linked to Miles personality. For a man who is so worried about his imagine with respect to what wine he gives the Miles Seal of Approval he surely must care about what car he is seen in, and therefore the Saab is the preferred snob car.

Enter the 2008 film Smart People which probably has a lot more to owe to Sideways aside from car dealership recommendations. Our introduction to the film is first an introduction to a white/off-white Saab pulling into a professors parking lot at Carnegie-Mellon. And before we get a full shot of who is driving the car, we find out all we need to know: The arrogant SOB diagonally double parks across two spots. This snob of literature, professor at Carnegie-Mellon is none-other than Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quiad). He has burnt just about all his bridges with friends, colleagues, and students in the name of his superior intelligence. He is a notoriously tough grader because he thinks his students are no longer passionate. His daughter Vanessa (Ellen Page) is headed down the same path as her father as she studies to get the perfect score on the SAT but has no friends around her. She attends Model UN and Young Republicans but doesnt seem to have noticeable equals. The philosophy is essentially Why do you need friends if they arent as smart as you. Her brother James (Ashton Holmes) is more in tune with the rest of society and is just as smart but not in the same way as father and daughter.

The black sheep adopted brother Chuck (Thomas Haden Church) enters the familys life when Lawrence finds he is unable to drive for six months. The reason? Well one day the professors double-parking self-entitlement gets his Saab towed and he injures himself trying to illegally get into the impound lot to get his briefcase. So Chuck becomes the willing chauffeur for the unwilling brother. And Chuck is everything that the family is not; which means he is dumb and on some level accepted by society. His presence is rejected, but necessary for Vanessa and her father to change. He loosens up Vanessas right-wing-white-collar with the help of alcohol and weed, while he offers some advice to his brother, in particular date the hot younger doctor who used to be your student and dont screw it up.

Smart People is like a poor mans Sideways in more ways than just the car. It shares some common themes (quirky individual socially adjusting by way of an extremely flawed friend/family member) and even some of the same details (Thomas Haden Church playing the comical agent of change, main character teaches, drives a SAAB!). But for a few of reasons Smart People is a slightly lesser film. The ending gift wraps too many easy solutions for the characters problems. Some parts are choppy and hard to follow (most of the scenes involving the son I found awkward since his back story wasnt as well developed, but other parts were difficult as well) which leads me to believe that scenes were edited out or maybe Im not one of the Smart People who can seamlessly follow this movie. All in all it was an enjoyable film on its own and should be enjoyed those who like comedies based on odd personality clashes and not blasts to the groin.




5 out of 10 Jackasses
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