Dennis Quaid stars as a bitter, washed out widower in SMART PEOPLE, a film that tackles the lives of several seriously unhappy people in surprisingly funny and touching ways. A hated literature professor at Carnegie Mellon, Lawrence Wetherhold has been earning the scorn of his students, colleagues, and family since the death of his wife several years ago. The only person on his side is his teenage daughter Vanessa (Ellen Page), whose loyalty and similarities to her father belie her tender age. Between running the Young Republicans club and aiming for a perfect SAT score, the over-achieving high school student knows no life beyond the insular world of family. When the film begins, the family dynamics are well established, with Lawrence merely going through the motions of his life, unable to muster up any passion for parenting or even his literary expertise. It takes a seizure, an unexpected visit from his adopted brother (Thomas Haden Church), and a new romantic interest (Sarah Jessica Parker) to shake things up and stir Lawrence from his constant misery.
Driven by a clever script and fine performances, SMART PEOPLE is set in the land of academia, a place where both Lawrence and Vanessa have taken refuge and plunged themselves into as escape from the external world. In spite of their high IQs, both father and daughter are equally clueless when it comes to navigating relationships. This becomes obvious as Vanessa develops a line-blurring relationship with her uncle, and Lawrence stumbles in romancing his doctor. If Vanessa wants a shot at happiness and Lawrence wants to make things work in his love life, both will have to adopt new attitudes or risk further alienation. Church is hilarious as Chuck, Lawrence's adopted slacker brother, adding a funny but heartfelt element to the otherwise serious film.