Smart People (Blu-ray)

January 28, 2012 5 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

With the home video market becoming more and more popular, there are so many movies that we hear about that never really make a splash at the box office. They come and go and most are, well, bad but others just dont seem to find the right audience. Smart People is one of the latter in that I think it will find a much wider audience on the home video market. Its well-written, acted and has some of the wit and charm of Sideways (a movie that found its audience both at the theater and the home video market). I will say that if youre in the mood for the Pittsburgh-area-descheveled-eccentric-professor-with-problems-who-eventually-works-them-out type of film that Id recommend Wonder Boys, a very similar movie that I felt was executed a bit better. Still this film features a pre Juno Ellen Page, Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker and the comic relief of Thomas Hayden Church.

Quaid plays arrogant professor Lawrence Wetherhold, who teaches at Carnegie-Melon University in Pittsburgh. He keeps to himself, is an elitist and is waiting to see if anyone publishes his book. Hes also lost his wife a few years back, but they never really say how. His adopted brother (which is how hes introduced) Chuck (Thomas Hayden Church) is a drifter of sorts and shows back up as hes in the need for a place to stay. As fate would have it, Lawrence suffers a seizure while attempting to steal his car back from the impound lot and is restricted from driving by Dr. Janet Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker), a former student of Wetherholds and who still has some feelings for him. The only remaining character is Lawrences daughter, Vanessa (Ellen Page), whos so obsessed with acing her SATs that shes nearly in a world all her own. Shes been accepted at Stanford and figures that her problems will disappear when she hits California.

Smart People is a pretty clever, crafty drama that really intrigued me. To call this movie a character study is putting it lightly, for sure; though I was really impressed at the range of Quaid. The movie is saved by Thomas Hayden Church and, to a lesser extent, Ellen Page who both do wonderful in their respective roles. As I mentioned, this movie bears a pretty striking resemblance to 2000s Wonder Boys, even down to the same city and college. Id consider Wonder Boys the better movie and Michael Douglas character was a little more likeable for me than Quaids. Still, its nice to see films like this and though we may not always agree with the characters, there are undoubtedly us out there who can identify with them.

Video: How does it look?

Smart People is presented in a 2.40:1 AVC HD transfer that sparkles in most parts and only falters in a few others. The entire palette of the movie, for me, seemed rather subdued and a bit mellow and this certainly isnt the type of vibrant, flashy film that will look amazing on your screen. Detail is to notch, we can see every wrinkle in both Quaid and Churchs face and Sarah Jessica Parker isnt getting any younger, is she? Its a nice transfer to look at and I had no major complaints with it in the least, though there could be room for improvement.

Audio: How does it sound?

Disney has given this movie a PCM uncompressed mix that sounds just above average. Its a dialogue-driven movie to say the very least. There are a few interludes in which we hear some guitar that sounds pretty robust and dialogue isnt ever a problem. However in terms of actual surround sound there isnt much to report on here. This, like Sideways, has a very simple, straight-forward track that sounds good but not great then again I doubt audio was the filmmakers first priority.

Supplements: What are the extras?

We get a fairly insightful commentary from director Noam Murro who talks of the shoot and the casting of Ellen Page before she made Juno. Its a very informative track and one that I enjoyed. We get some outtakes, 9 deleted scenes and a 15 minute featurette that showcases Pittsburgh and the adaptation to the screen.

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