Smart People (2008)
Here is another entry in the "quirky-and-misanthropic-intellectuals-learn-to-live-their-lives" sub-genre which has exploded in population during the last few years. Films like Running With Scissors, The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding and The Savages, to name a few, have found themselves messing about more or less successfully in this realm. These are films which owe quite a bit to John Irving in terms of characters and writing, and to the likes of Todd Solondz when it comes to film style.
And would you believe it: Also in Smart People, our struggling writer protagonist finally gets his book published in the end. This shouldn't be considered a spoiler, seeing as this development has become almost as mandatory in this sub-genre as a shoot-out in a western or a chase scene in an action movie. What I am trying to say is that Smart People, as per genre definitions, is a narrow and, from the writers point-of-view rather short-sighted film. The fundamental premise of the film is to use its characters to hopefully provide us some insight about ourselves, but expectedly, the observations and universal truths offered are rather slight and obvious.
Now, it seems I am overwhelmingly negative to this film, and that isn't at all the truth. Despite its sense of unnecessity, Smart People is told engagingly and offers interesting if somewhat restrained characterisations. There are truly funny moments as well, with Ellen Page and Thomas Haden Church having fun in thematic continuations of characters they have done with bravura in recent years (Juno and Sideways, respectively). The Page/Church relationship has got a lot of potential to it, even if the character's emotions are cushioned somewhat too soon, and Dennis Quaid gives a fine performance in portraying the disenchanted and increasingly pessimistic worldview of someone who has not experienced love in a long time and has become bitter about it. The relationship between Parker and Quaid isn't the most convincing you'll see, but the effect it has on the Quaid character is still affecting and well-told.