Smart People

Posted on April 10, 2008 at 5:00 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language, brief teen drug and alcohol use, and for some sexuality.
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drug use by adults and teen
Violence/ Scariness: Peril, accident with injury, reference to sad off-screen death
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: April 11, 2008

A burned-out literature professor named Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid) has written an “unpublishable” book called The Price of Postmodernism: Epistemology, Hermeneutics and the Literary Canon. Of course it is unpublishable. Everyone knows that the part of the title that comes before the colon in literary works is supposed to be self-consciously cutesy. A book like that should be called something like A Bad Slammin’ Groove: Epistemology, etc. I suppose it is a symptom of Lawrence’s ennui and disconnection that he has lost the essential ability for preserving that academic necessity: a snarky combination of smug superiority over popular culture and even smugger superiority over the ability to speak in its patois.

Lawrence, his college-student son James (Ashton Holmes from “A History of Violence”) and his college-applying high school senior daughter Vanessa (“Juno’s” Ellen Page) are each floating around in separate bell jars, suspended in space, all the air sucked out by anger and loss, all three unable to communicate and unaware of how much pain they are in. Lawrence’s brother Chuck (“my adopted brother,” he reminds everyone — played by Thomas Hayden Church) moves in. Yes, he will prove to be the life force confronting the dessicated souls so out of touch with their true feelings. But Church and the screenwriter, novelist Mark Poirier, give him more perspective and more spine than these characters usually display. “These children haven’t been properly parented in many years,” he tells one visitor. “They’re practically feral. That’s why I was brought in.” And he believes it.

Poirier appreciated literature and he knows how to create characters who talk (and don’t talk) about what is going on like educated people. He has not quite worked out the difference between a novel and a movie, however; he still tells too much and shows too little. An exceptional cast takes the material as far as it can go, but it still feels synthetic and its sense of tone is uncertain, biting here (faculty committee, unpublishable tome), sentimental there (how many times do we have to see a grieving spouse who can’t clean out the closet?). Quaid is especially strong and Parker lets us see her sweetness and longing, but Page’s and Church’s characters are underwritten and it feels like it all gets tied up too hastily. The characters might be too smart for their own good, but the movie could use a few more IQ points.

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Drama Independent Movies Romance

Rocket Science

Posted on January 28, 2008 at 8:00 am

Hal (Reece Thompson) has something say but he has a lot of trouble saying it. On the bus, he can practice asking for pizza, but when it comes to the moment and he is standing in the cafeteria line, he can’t quite get it out. He has a stutter, the kind of speech impediment that keeps the words stuck in his throat. People tend to ignore him. Either they are tied up in their own worries and do not realize that he deserves their attention, or they assume that because he does not talk he must not be worth listening to.


And then Ginny (Anna Kendricks) sits next to him on the school bus and invites him to join the debate team. She says she sees greatness in him. And, perhaps because of that, or just because she is hyper-articulate and sure of herself, maybe because his parents have just split up and love seems very confusing to him, all of a sudden Hal begins to feel feelings for Ginny that are seismic and shattering and uncontrollable. And so, his actions become as confused and embarrassing as his speech. He sort of stalks her. He sort of grabs her. And when he feels that she has betrayed him, he goes to any length to try to at the same time let her know he does not need her, defeat her, and win her back at the same time.


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Director Jeffrey Blitz showed sensitivity to the throes of adolescence in his award-winning documentary about the national spelling bee for middle schoolers, Spellbound. He got those kids to trust him and here, too, and he gets the most from his talented young cast. Thompson is superb, showing perception and vulnerability without seeming mannered or excessive. Kendricks, a Broadway veteran so good in “Camp,” raps out her complex speeches with devastating effect; completely compelling as someone who would bring a dozen perfectly sharpened number 2 pencils to the SATs and challenge them all the way to the Supreme Court if they tried to give her one point less than a perfect score.


The screenplay wavers at times; the structure is a little ragged, there are a couple of self-consciously quirky indie moments, and the ending a little weak. But Thompson and Kendricks and the debate scenes make this one of the best coming-of-age stories in many months.

Parents should know that there are some crude sexual references and high school situations. Characters use some strong language, a teenager smokes, and there are references to drinking and drug use.


Families who see this movie should talk about how difficult it was for Hal to find someone who could understand or help him. Why were all of the adults around him so clueless?

Families who like this movie will also appreciate Napoleon Dynamite and the award-winning spelling bee documentary directed by Blitz, Spellbound. And they will enjoy this interview with writer-director Jeffrey Blitz.

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Comedy Drama Genre , Themes, and Features Independent

Run Lola Run

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Teenagers with a taste for the offbeat will enjoy this German import about a woman who gets a frantic phone call from her boyfriend and has only 20 minutes to find 100,000 marks (about $60,000), or he will be killed by the drug dealer to whom he supposed to deliver the money. Lola (Franka Potente) and her boyfriend Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu) live in a sort of of punk post-modern demi-mondaine. The key image of the movie is Lola, with her Raggedy Ann mop of bright red hair, running to save her beloved Manni from the drug dealer, and from himself — he has threatened to hold up a store if she cannot get him the money. When she interacts with people on her way — and in her way — we sometimes get glimpses of what their lives ahead will hold.

Lola runs to her father, who works at a bank, to ask him for the money. But he has his own problems. She does not make it in time, and the result is tragic. But Lola’s determination is such that she will not let that happen. All of a sudden, we are back in her apartment and she is getting Manni’s call again. Everything starts over, this time with tiny differences that have huge consequences for Lola and Manni and for the people around them. It takes three tries before Lola’s running is over.

The movie is fun to watch, with a lot of very clever jump cuts and effects, and it can be a nice jolt for kids who are used to pedestrian big-budget film-making. Parents should know that there is some rough street language, references to out-of-wedlock pregnancy and adultery, and that the main characters live on the edge of the underworld — the money Manni leaves on a train belongs to a drug dealer. Families may want to discuss the movie’s theme about the way that the tiniest choices and interactions can have the most wide-reaching consequences.

Families who enjoy this movie will also like “Diva.”

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Action/Adventure Crime Drama Independent Thriller
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