Smart People (2008)


Smart People is a 2008 American comedy-drama film starring Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ellen Page and Thomas Haden Church. The film was directed by Noam Murro, written by Mark Poirier and produced by Michael London, with Omar Amanat serving as executive producer. Smart People was filmed on location in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, including several scenes at Carnegie Mellon University and the Pittsburgh International Airport. Premiering at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, North American distribution rights were acquired by Miramax Films and the film was released widely on April 11, 2008.


Carnegie Mellon English Professor Lawrence Wetherhold (Quaid) is a middle-aged widower. He is bitter and arrogant at work, uninterested in his students, and alienated from his two children. His adopted ne'er-do-well brother, Chuck (Church), arrives to borrow money and stays for a while as he tries to unwind Lawrence's lonely, overachieving teenage daughter, Vanessa (Page). Meanwhile, Lawrence suffers a trauma-induced seizure after falling from the top of a fence in an attempt to retrieve his briefcase from inside his impounded car. In the emergency room, he is treated by Dr. Janet Hartigan (Parker), a former student he does not remember. Janet tells Lawrence that because of his seizure, he is not allowed to drive for six months. When he returns home from the hospital, Chuck is still there, and he offers to drive for him in return for letting him move in. Lawrence goes to the hospital for a follow-up, where another doctor tells him Janet had been his student. He meets Janet again outside the hospital as he is leaving and, since Chuck has failed to show up, she offers to take him home. When they arrive, he asks Janet to join him for a "face-to-face conversation." She agrees, fulfilling her old student crush on the professor. Vanessa is not pleased, confronting Janet about Lawrence's fragility. At dinner, Lawrence monopolizes the conversation and Janet walks out. Lawrence fakes a visit to the emergency room to see Janet again and the two reconcile for a second date. They get back to Janet's place where they have sex, but while spending the night, Janet is turned off by Lawrence's neediness and worries that he is, in fact, still too distraught by his wife's death. To get rid of him, she feigns being called in by the hospital and does not return any of his subsequent calls. On another night, in the midst of a contentious family Christmas dinner at the Wetherholds', Janet arrives unannounced with a cake. After Chuck gets Vanessa drunk to celebrate her early acceptance into Stanford University, she makes a pass at him, which he rejects. He then moves in part-time with Lawrence's son, James (Ashton Holmes), in his college dormitory. James' girlfriend, Missy (Camille Mana), who is one of his father's students, tells Lawrence that James has had a poem accepted by The New Yorker. In contrast, Lawrence's latest academic tome has been universally rejected. After Vanessa suggests a new title, You Can't Read!, the book is sold to Penguin Group, a large non-academic publisher in New York. To Lawrence's dismay, however, the book is largely re-worked and edited by the publisher and only vaguely resembles his original work. Janet accompanies Lawrence on a trip to New York to meet with the publisher, where she learns she is pregnant with his child. Finding him preoccupied by his book's publishing and an on-going campaign to become chairman of the English Department, Janet is again upset by Lawrence's self-absorption and breaks up with him without telling him the news. Back in Pittsburgh, Lawrence is confronted by both James and Chuck, who both point to his apparent lack of interest in his children's lives. Encouraged by Chuck, Lawrence goes to the hospital to reconcile with Janet, who reveals her pregnancy. He has meanwhile dropped his bid to become department head and has become a more involved parent and professor. During the end credits, Lawrence and Janet cradle twin babies: one boy and one girl.