Smart People 
Blu-ray Drama
Written by Noah Fleming   
Friday, 22 August 2008

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It is not often that a new genre of film arises.  However, the last decade or so has brought forth a new subgenre in dramas.  This new subgenre is commonly referred to as a dramedy.  Dramedies are exactly what it sounds like – not quite a drama but as not quite a comedy, rather a blend of the two.  "Lost in Translation," "The Royal Tenenbaums" and "Juno" have been some of the more popular in this subgenre.

"Smart People" is the latest dramedy, and it arises from Miramax Films.  If you have never seen a dramedy before, the films are filled with contrived situations, eccentric characters and a somewhat odd presentation of straightforward dialogue.  "Smart People" is no exception to this standard.  Making his directorial debut is Noam Murro.  If this film is an evidence of his future in the industry, he may be in trouble.  Many film critics looked upon the film negatively - usually resulting in a big sign being stapled to the director's forehead.  However, not all is lost for Noam.  While not going to end up a classic, "Smart People" will definitely hold its own in the dramedies category.

"Smart People" is story about a family of intellectuals that lack any type of common sense.  A cleverly written film, but misunderstood by the mainstream viewers.  As is the precedence with these films, the movie is all about the characters.  The actors in said film are definitely high up on the actor's food chain.  Dennis Quaid portrays Lawrence Wetherhold, a professor of literature who sees all his students as hopeless.  His negative views and arrogance carry over to his manuscript, which happens to be rejected by nearly every publishing house.  Quaid plays his character extremely well – making us hate him without really hating him.

Sarah Jessica Parker plays Janet Hartigan, an emergency room doctor that tends to Wetherhold after an "accident."  Hartigan's infatuated feelings for Wetherhold return after more than 10 years.  Wetherhold and Hartigan's on-again-off-again relationship confuses the audience and perfectly shows just how interesting contrived situations can be in the film.

As is the case with all her films, Ellen Page delivers a standout performance.  Fresh off the success of "Juno" (another dramedy), Page nails it once again.  Her character, Vanessa Wetherhold (daughter of the professor), is an intellectual smart-a**.  Lacking even more common sense than her father, Vanessa finds herself harboring taboo romantic feelings.

Ashton Holmes plays James Wetherhold, the son.  He is the balance in the film.  James is the only intellectual that retains his common sense.  In each of his scenes, he brings the character opposite of him back down to reality.  James is quite the antidote to everyone's poison.

Still, the film lacked cohesiveness.  In the end the outcome is predictable and unsatisfying.  I expected more to come from this genre of film.

More of a let down than the film however, is the quality of the picture.  Most annoyingly are the skin tone fluctuations.  Tones vary from scene to scene and within scenes themselves.  Dennis Quaid's face in particular is very uneven, a true display of independent filmmaking.  While not a exactly part of the transfer process, the lighting is also subpar.  Interior shots consistently contain large, blown out windows and doors.  The lacking of strong black levels yielded a relatively flat image.  Many scenes contained a hint of depth, but fell short in the end.  There are also many appearances of the soft images.  It is unclear whether this is transfer or a directorial blunder.  On the plus side, details are strong (except in the softer sequences), and contrast is solid (except in the blown out sequences).  Grain is surprisingly minimal.  As per the filmmaker's vision, the colors are washed but stable.

Walt Disney Home Entertainment has indulged us with a nice PCM 5.1 (48kHz/24-bit) audio track.  The overall mix of the film was low, but fairly consistent.  You may find yourself turning up this audio track about 10dB above reference level.  You won't be utilizing your subwoofer with this film.  In fact, sometimes the dialogue was a bit brittle making me long for just a tad bit more bleeding of the center channel into the LFE channel.  Needless to say, this film does not make much use of the surround channels.  This isn't a pitfall, just a sad fact of the genre.  There are occasional outdoor ambiences in the surrounds and minor some minor bleeding of the music.  This is a pretty standard audio track with nothing to really set it apart in terms of the sound design and mixing.

"Smart People" on Blu-ray includes the most useful of special features.  Fortunately for you, the features are actually worthy of your time.  Unfortunately, they are all presented in standard definition.  First is the audio commentary by director Noam Murro and writer Mark Poirier.  This is a fairly decent commentary for those of you who like to hear more information about the creation of the film's characters and less of the technical aspects of the shoot.  The deleted scenes supplement contains nine sequences, a few of which are actually pretty informative.  The outtakes also contain several laughs.  Finally there is "The Smartest People," a featurette with cast and crew interviews .  There is also a free movie ticket included with the film for Miramax's, "Blindness."

"Smart People" is definitely not for everyone.  If you desire shoot 'em up, blow 'em up films then cross this one off your list.  But if you like love/hate characters and have a quirky sense of humor then definitely check this film out.  You may love it or you may hate it, but you'll never know unless you give it a try.  I was pleasantly surprised.
Studio Walt Disney Home Entertainment
MPAA Rating R
Starring Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ellen Page, Thomas Haden Church, Ashton Holmes, Christine Lahti
Director Noam Murro
Film Release Year 2008
Release Year 2008
Resolution(s) 1080p (main feature) • 480i (supplements)
Aspect Ratio 2.40:1
Running Time 1 hr. 35 mins.
Sound Formats English PCM 5.1 • English Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles English SDH • French • Spanish
Special Features Director & Writer Audio Commentary, Deleted Scenes, Outtakes, "The Smartest People" featurette, Free Movie Ticket
Forum Link
Reviewer Noah Fleming

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