Smart People grated my nerves from just about the first frame. It wants so badly to be the next precious, bittersweet, bitingly funny semi-independent underground hit that it forgets that simply assembling a puzzle that worked a couple times before doesn't make the feat amazing when all the pieces are frayed. Watching the film is like that grandest of all critic-speak metaphors--the slow-motion train wreck. We see the actors speaking their lines like they actually mean something, we hear the music hit in all the perfect spots as if we are supposed to be moved by its placement, and we see a screenplay being flickered on the screen that is so enamored with its own virtue that it loses sight of what virtue really means.
In essence, the film is another downbeat story of a middle-aged prick's arrested development, and, finally, his coming-of-age. A more tired premise I cannot immediately think of at this moment, but said premise--tired as it may be--can certainly produce brilliance. Great stories can be told about familiar subjects. As the great Roger Ebert always said, "It's not what a film is about--it's how it is about it." Smart People is about it in all the wrong ways. It wants the emotional payoff without doing any of the hard work to get there. It wants to sacrifice its story and characters in order to pose as Sideways 2. It wants to touch all the standard bases and let that suffice.
The most unfortunate thing about Smart People is that the screenplay failure mars what is actually a great piece of acting by Dennis Quaid. He is grizzled and world-weary with not a hint of artifice--the perfect fit for what this movie really wanted to be. Quaid really is like we've never seen him before, and if there is one positive to take away from this film, he is it. Church is fun, too, especially in his scenes with the brilliant Page, where the film is at its best. But in reality, Page is actually completely miscast as the stiff Republican daughter, and saddest of all, Sarah Jessica Parker is forced to play an empty shell of a character who operates as she does solely because the screenplay calls for her to. She is victim of Smart People's greatest injustice.
I like to consider myself a smart person. And hell, I know it to be true that oftentimes, the smartest people often have the most to learn. With that in mind, I will take that lesson to heart...by never watching Smart People again.