Picks and Pans Review: Smart People

updated 04/21/2008 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/21/2008 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ellen Page, Thomas Haden Church | R | [

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A person with a Ph.D., this droll comedy makes clear, can be as big a fool as anyone. Take grouchy Lawrence Wetherhold (Quaid), a widowed college professor specializing in Victorian literature. Oh, he can lecture endlessly about Charles Dickens, but when it comes to understanding his own emotional needs, he's been in shut-down mode ever since his wife died.

When a bad tumble lands Wetherhold in the emergency room, a doctor (Parker) asks him, "Are you always this contentious, or is it the result of the head trauma?" Soon he and the good doc, his onetime student, are dating, and he is clumsily taking the first steps toward moving on with his life. As Wetherhold shakes off his funk, he gradually comes to see how his years of disengaged neglect have hurt his teenage daughter (Page, doing the Young Republican version of her Juno character), college-age son (Ashton Holmes) and slacker brother (Church).

While some characters—Parker's in particular—feel underdeveloped, and the plot runs low on fuel near the end, Smart People is, well, smart and enjoyable. Quaid, getting just the right shamble in his walk, again shows off his polished comic skills, while Parker is astringently amusing. But it's Page and, especially, Church who have all the best lines and scenes, whacking 'em out of the ballpark every time.

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