Noam Murro’s “Smart People” passed through theaters this April with little fanfare; its DVD sales should find a similar reception. A dysfunctional-family dramedy about emotionally stunted academics who can’t seem to escape their own misery, “Smart People” features one sharp supporting performance from Thomas Haden Church and a bunch of unlikable characters that we’ve seen before in other, better movies.
The film stars Dennis Quaid as Lawrence Wetherhold, a curmudgeonly Carnegie Mellon English professor with an overachieving teenage daughter (a pre-“Juno” Ellen Page) and a sullen son (Ashton Holmes). Their quaint Pittsburgh lives are shaken up by the arrival of Lawrence’s freeloading screw-up of a brother (Church) and a comely doctor (Sarah Jessica Parker) who used to be one of his students. These familiar characters serve as a recipe for an embarrassingly lackluster night of entertainment.
As far as extras go, there are nine deleted scenes (total run time: 10 min.), some of which provide welcome wit. “Loftier Goals” showcases banter between Page and Church, while “Application Folders” and “Library Hours” allow Quaid fun moments with his secretary and with a female colleague, respectively. The standout deleted scene sees phone-card salesman Church hitting on a bartender, telling her he’s in telecommunications. On the other hand, “Hallway Belongings” is the sort of scene you cut from the movie and exclude from the DVD. Although the good outweighs the bad on this feature, it would be better with commentary from Murro explaining the scenes’ exclusion.
The audio commentary featuring Murro and screenwriter Mark Jude Poirier is too dry and heavy on thematic intention as Murro discusses the challenges in finding the balance of humor and pathos while dramatizing a story whose characters follow small trajectories and have no grand epiphanies.
“Smartest People” is a 16-minute featurette comprised of interviews with cast and key crew. There are also two minutes of outtakes and bloopers that include Church in a bubble bath admiring his floating testicles; another has Page incredulously asking how Church got nominated for an Oscar (for “Sideways”). Little did Page know that she’d soon find herself nominated for “Juno.” The feature ends with Quaid shaking his 54-year old booty for the camera.
“Smart People” is strictly a rental, but for those who insist on buying the DVD, it does come with a voucher for a ticket to Fernando Meirelles’ upcoming Julianne Moore-Mark Ruffalo drama “Blindness,” which opens September 26.