A third of the way through Smart People, I channeled Randy Newman's "Short People" and thought, "Smart people got no reason to live." In this sometimes droll but often just pleasantly literate movie, screenwriter Mark Jude Poirier's smart people -- depressed English prof Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid) and his go-getter daughter Vanessa (Ellen Page) -- walk around Pittsburgh and the campus of Carnegie-Mellon "tellin' great big lies" like Newman's short ones, albeit mostly to themselves.
Wetherhold has become a dull and morose intellectual egotist since his wife died. It takes several tries for a fetching physician (Sarah Jessica Parker) to shake him out of his funk. And his daughter has assumed her father's anhedonia as well as her mom's responsibilities. Juno's Page wins laughs as Vanessa with her brilliant, snarky YouTube timing, but the role is an impossible blend of precocity and stunted growth. Vanessa doesn't own up to her own needs even after she drunkenly throws herself at Wetherhold's adopted brother, an exuberant ne'er-do-well named Chuck (Thomas Haden Church).
Smart People (Miramax) Starring Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Thomas Haden Church, Ellen Page. Directed by Noam Murro. Rated R for language, brief drug use and some sexuality. Time 93 minutes.