Smart People [Blu-ray Review]

Studio: Miramax Films

Starring: Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ellen Page, Thomas Haden Church
Directed By: Noam Murro

Running Time: 95 minutes
Ratings: Canada – 14A, USA – R, UK – 15

Back Cover

From the producer of Sideways — get to know a lovable yet dysfunctional family everyone can relate to in this lighthearted comedy that’s brighter and sharper yet on Blu-ray. When Lawrence Waterhole (Dennis Quaid) — a widowed and self-absorbed professor — falls for his attractive former student (Sex and the City’s Sarah Jessica Parker), his all-too-predictable life suddenly turns sunny-side up. That is until his freeloading brother (Thomas Haden Church) and his sharp-tongued overachieving daughter (Juno’s Ellen Page) speak up, making “chaos” the word of the day. Delight in the clarity, comedy and conundrums of Smart People — made perfect with the spectacular enhancements of Blu-ray High Definition.

Movie

They say that every family on this planet is dysfunctional. To what extent that dysfunction presents itself is what determines the social acknowledgement of the family state. Smart People is an examination of one such family coming to terms with how to function within their dysfunction. It is difficult for me to say much about the film without giving away plot points crucial to the journey that it presents. Suffice it to say though, the direction by Noam Murro must have been a very emotionally passionate procedure. The tender and simplistic method with which the scenes are framed and spliced together clearly indicates that he had a relationship with the material. The perfect example is a moment where the simple act of having one character support themselves fully on a shopping cart while in motion tells an encyclopedia worth of information regarding a monumental paradigm shift for that individual. There aren’t many films in which simplicity proves to be so well conceived with intention.

The charm of the film may be heavily supported by the direction, but the true heart of the presentation lands squarely in the hands of the actors. Dennis Quaid is magnificent as a man isolated from himself because of a traumatic loss in the past. His subtle nuances throughout the film really add a quality of neurosis that makes his character very relatable to everyone. Every human being has at least one interesting little physical quirk which they are self-critical of and yet can’t seem to stop doing. Quaid really tapped into an “everyman” wellspring when creating Lawrence Wetherhold by emenating this. Ellen Page is exceptional (once again) as a teenage girl. However, unlike Juno, this time she plays a much more studious, ambitious, and success driven teenager who is determined to make something of herself. But, her character becomes relatable as she begins to realize that her unwavering path toward success is holding her back from both knowing who she really is, as well as being happy. And Thomas Haden Church is nothing short of brilliant as the slacker “infantile” adopted brother who weasles his way back into Lawrence’s life once more. And, although one would assume from his early introduction that his character is of questionable moral standing, we eventually get to learn just how far he will allow his moral compass to stray. He becomes the voice of reason for all of the characters to reach new heights of understanding about themselves through blunt contributions. I have followed Thomas Haden Church’s career since his recurring role on the television series Wings and have always enjoyed his unique style of performance. It’s good to see that, over the last few years, he is beginning to get recognized for it.

This unsuspecting surprise of a little film is one of those experiences in the annals of film history that manages to gently wrap its arms around you and embrace you with such care that you don’t even realize how comfortable you are until the credits are rolling.

Crave Factor – 10

Extras

The Smartest People (16:34) – The cast and crew discuss the creation of this authentic “campus film” and take us deeper into the workings of its idiosyncratic family. Each character gets psychoanalyzed by the cast and crew to a fantastic degree. In fact, I felt very good to hear my own thoughts about the characters from my film review above echoed within this extra feature to different degrees. For those who are less likely to manifest their own analysese of characters within a film will really find a great depth of understanding to be discovered within this 16 minutes of footage.

Not So Smart (2:02) – Bloopers… bloopers… bloopers. Fun times at Smart People High.

Deleted Scenes (9:51 as ‘play all’) – Viewable individually or as one string of clips, these 9 scenes contain both footage that should have been included within the film and footage that should remain where it is. In particular, “Loftier Goals” and “Venessa Smoking” would have added a nice new facet to the characters.

Commentary – Director Noam Murro and writer Mark Jude Poirier offer a varied degree of quality throughout their commentary. There are many instances where they have meaningful contributions toward a higher understanding of the material. There are other times when they go off making fun of costume choices. Ultimately, I feel as though the commentary track doesn’t quite have enough meaningful material to make it worth the time. However, that may become a subjective opinion based on the individual. Those who truly wish to understand the film as much as they can will want to use this feature. The casual viewer will want to stick to the deleted scenes and the “Smartest People” features.

Crave Factor – 8

Video

2.40:1 Widescreen / AVC

This transfer is strongest through the representation of the colour palette. The extremely varied array of colours presented throughout is very rich on this Blu-ray transfer. The detail of the image suffers quite a bit from a film grain inherent to the image. However, in its defense, the consistency of its presence is undoubtedly because of the film stock and not due to the actual transfer. As a result, the blacks also suffer. There is no artifacting or banding that occurs, but there is also strong evidence that the blacks are very much blended together. All in all, the image quality is not fantastic. But, this film is so genuine in its presentation that the image quality doesn’t affect the enjoyment. I didn’t even notice the picture quality until my second viewing with the commentary track. My response was, literally, “Oh geez… I didn’t even notice that.”

Crave Factor – 7

Audio

Uncompressed 5.1 LPCM / Dolby Digital 5.1

This is the first time that I have encountered a Blu-ray release where I could literally discern so little a difference between the Hi-Def audio codec and the lossy audio codec. These two tracks are virtually identical save some slight extra punch in the subwoofer when it comes to the musical soundtrack elements. Even then, the difference is so little that I had to switch back and forth several times. However, the film is almost entirely dialogue driven and therefore has nothing to worry about since the dialogue is pristine on both tracks. Every syllable is clear as Mediterranean waters.

Crave Factor – 9

Menu

Interestingly, this Blu-ray disc menu system differs from the standard form. The disc has a main menu when the disc loads which incorporates a comic book-esque design with a selection of the soundtrack playing in the background. A small box on the top right of the screen displays silent clips from the film. The selections transition nicely as subsequent menus appear to the right of the previous options using unique pop-up sounds. Now, for the difference mentioned previously one must look to the playback menu…

The playback menu on this Blu-ray disc is unique in the sense that almost every Blu-ray has some form of “least intrusive” method of displaying the menu options so that the film can continue playback while navigating the options. Unfortunately, this disc loads a full screen image in order to access disc software options. What is most annoying about this is that the visual aspect of the presentation is compromised by being minimized to an extremely small box near the top right of the screen. This is certainly not my idea of a convenient “next generation” programming. In fact, it hurts my menu rating quite substantially.

Crave Factor – 6

Conclusion

Miramax presents an amazingly beautiful film on a format that could actually do it more justice. The picture quality is not completely “up to snuff” for a Blu-ray and the audio of the film doesn’t have much to offer aside from the music track, regardless of the presentation medium. But the important thing to take into account here is the quality of the content within the film. The story, the characters, the acting, and the direction are all superior in nature. It is one of those films that catches you by surprise and charms the pants off of you… or, more appropriately in this case, the money right out of your wallet. If you aren’t adament about owning all of your new purchases in the Blu-ray format, then this title is definitely to be added through a DVD purchase. People need to see Smart People and love it.

Overall Crave Factor – 8

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