Despite what a lot of movies might have you believe, being white is not that hard. Out of all the things that you can be in the world, being white is probably one of the easiest, and being white in America is the absolute tops. It’s great. So many privileges. No one gives you shit. It’s really wonderful.

Don’t misunderstand: being human is hard. There’s death and sadness and regret for EVERYONE, even white people. But if all you have is some death and sadness and regret, you’re still doing better than 99 percent of the world. Because despite those hardships you don’t also have, you know, racism and bombs and genocide and chronic diarrhea. That can be a really hard thing to remember, because pain is relative. The frustration you have that your knock-off Murakami iPhone case showed up two days later in the mail than the shipping confirmation email said it would is genuinely hurtful to you. That bitter emotion is real. But that doesn’t make it not sad and inappropriate when measured against the pain scale of the rest of the world. And it’s actually BECAUSE of failed movies like Smart People that we are reminded of how good we have it.

Smart People is about a grumpy professor, Dennis Quaid, and his family. After Dennis Quaid has a seizure in a campus parking lot–because he is so grumpy that he purposefully parks his car across two spaces and then is so grumpy that he gets mad when the car gets towed–his drivers license is revoked for six months. So his adopted brother, Thomas Haden Church, moves in to help take care of business. Meanwhile, his daughter, played by Juno, is an overworking young republican determined to go to Stanford, and his son is a poet who just sold a poem to the New Yorker. Of course. Not that Dennis Quaid knows any of this because he is so grumpy. Because his wife died. Then he goes on a date with the doctor, Sarah Jessica Parker, but she gets weirded out by his clinginess and also by his need to always sit in the backseat of the car, but then they get back together, but then they break up again, and also she is pregnant. Then Juno hits on Thomas Haden Church and he recognizes that this is inappropriate. Then some other stuff happens. They give the dead mom’s clothes to Goodwill. Whatever.

Smart People is not the worst movie ever made. It’s gently bad and mostly watchable. But its heart is in the wrong place. And it definitely helps to define what might be the Worst Genre of All Time, the Being an Upper Middle-Class White Is Hard genre. At the very least, this genre is offering the Mentally Handicapped Reminding Jaded Adults of the Wonders of Life genre some steep competition.

The main problem is that everyone in the movie needs to shut the fuck up. Try watching this clip and NOT wanting all of the characters to shut the fuck up.

See? Shut up, you guys. This stems in large part from none of the characters being even remotely likable* and exhibiting zero growth over the course of the movie. They begin the movie being depressive misanthropes with their heads buried deep up their own asses, and they end the movie that way. Now I should point out that in theory, this is something I would enjoy. I like the idea of a movie about characters who don’t learn anything and don’t change, because I think that’s very true to life. People rarely learn anything, and they even more rarely change. The problem with the reality of this is that you just end the movie the way you started, wishing everyone would shut the fuck up forever.

And their unlikability comes not from the performances, which are mostly fine–although I don’t know what Dennis Quaid is doing when he slips into that weird effeminate bobble-head whisper mode–but from the writing, which like so many of these “it’s life, jump into life” style movies, trades on lazy cliches and hackneyed emotional signifiers. (The screenwriter’s next movie is called Hardship, Friendship, Courtship, for ugh’s sake.) So Juno is a young republican because she has anti-stem cell research pamphlets in her car. Dennis Quaid is having trouble grieving over his dead wife because he won’t donate her clothes to Good Will. These are acceptable details, but they never build to anything larger. Juno’s young republicanism plays absolutely no role in her character’s motivations or outcome. It’s a toss-off detail. Same with Dennis Quaid’s depression, which is particularly problematic, since it’s the fulcrum on which the whole story supposedly turns.

Case in point: everyone at Carnegie-Mellon has taken one of Dennis Quaid’s English classes, and they all resent him because he’s dismissive and mean towards his students. There’s one despicable scene where he keeps a student waiting outside of his office while he winds his clock ahead so that he won’t have to meet with him. Fucker. This would be an interesting facet of his character if it was a result of his wife’s death, a symbol of his declining mental health. But it’s not. As it turns out, Sarah Jessica Parker took his class, and he was the reason she dropped out of English and became a doctor. (Sure, that’s not a weak-willed, impetuous reaction to getting a C on a paper.) BUT, she also complains that he never paid attention and didn’t recognize her from class. So he was always this way, even when his wonderful amazing wife was alive. And the last shot of the movie, now that he’s got a girlfriend and his kids have decided to love him, is Dennis Quaid still not recognizing another student in class. So he’s just a miserable person who goes around making everyone miserable. The end.

Again, in theory I like the idea of telling inherently miserable people’s stories. It doesn’t all have to be Uncle John’s Big Life Lesson. But in practice it is just so inherently disappointing.

*The one saving grace of this whole thing was Thomas Haden Church as the adopted brother. His character was written by the same screenwriter as all the others, so it was totally cliche. He loves get rich quick schemes! He’s the fun uncle who makes Juno smoke weed! But I give the credit where the credit is due, and Thomas Haden Church actually made me laugh out loud. Granted, it might have been in reaction to how cheesily portentous everyone else was, but I appreciated his levity. Here he is rescuing an otherwise terrible scene from total disaster.

Nicely done, Thomas Haden Church. Your performance, despite your character’s supposed “failure,” seemed to acknowledge the one thing that everyone else in this movie was missing: that white people have it fucking made.

Next week: Perfect. As always, please leave your suggestions in the comments or in an email. And if you haven’t done so already, please consult the Official Rules.

Comments (84)
  1. jeff  |   Posted on Dec 1st, 2008 0

    I just saw this movie this weekend while visiting my mom for turkey day. It was on her netflicks. She fell asleep and I was pissed that I didn’t. I totally agree with your review. Yeah Thomas Haden Church. Dennis Quaid came across as brain damaged in some scenes.

  2. kelly  |   Posted on Dec 1st, 2008 +3

    The Cookout is the worst movie ever made. It’s everything that is wrong with Black “niche” movies, and made me want to die.

  3. you should review MONEY TRAIN. not too long ago i woke up in the middle of the night and this was on TV and i was baffled at how bad it was.

    MONEY TRAIN. jesuschrist. awful and stupid and ridiculous. just watch it, i dare you. it’s terrible.

  4. Thrillhouse  |   Posted on Dec 1st, 2008 +2

    You forgot to mention the incredibly distracting soundtrack.. acoustic guitar plucking in EVERY FUCKING SCENE, even the ones with dialogue in them! what the hell is that?

    Otherwise great review. weird effeminate bobble-head whisper mode. Hilarious.

  5. dave  |   Posted on Dec 1st, 2008 0

    the soundtrack is actually the worst part about it for sure. and juno’s face.

  6. I still think The Last Kiss is the worst movie ever. EVER.

    • Carrie  |   Posted on Dec 3rd, 2008 +1

      Ahhh The Last Kiss is SO BAD…talk about unredeemably unlikable characters! And that 3-minute long Coldplay music video towards the end was totally uncalled for.

    • Robert  |   Posted on Dec 4th, 2008 +1

      I have been saying this for three posts already! The Last Kiss is so disturbingly bad and depressing. It almost cost me and my girlfriend our relationship. I said, nothing could be worth this.

  7. THANK YOU! This was the most tedious movie I’ve watched in a long time. Thank God for Thomas Haden Church… I don’t know why I saw it. I generally hate every SJP movie except for Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.

  8. Lizzie  |   Posted on Dec 1st, 2008 +1

    I would second Katie’s nomination of The Last Kiss, but I never saw it because Garden State was so horrendous, so I nominate it. Natalie Portman was so miscast, she looks and acts about 12 years old, so that the whole love interest thing with her and Zach Braff was just creepy and fell flat to me. Plus, like this movie, it was the whole “its so hard to be white and come from a well off family and live in LA….wahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.”

  9. I say fuck it and review Baby Geniuses again. I mean, really?

  10. Chase  |   Posted on Dec 1st, 2008 0

    i completely second the last kiss.

  11. The Last Kiss! I couldn’t even make it through that.

    I’ve said it before and will say it again: Perfect Stranger with Halle Berry and Bruce Willis is absolutely terrible! You have to see it to realize how terrible it actually is.

    Also I watched Hancock over the holiday with my family. Just so bad…

  12. Ruth  |   Posted on Dec 1st, 2008 0

    You still haven’t seen the worst Sarah Jessica Parker movie: “The Family Stone.”

  13. I’ve got it. “Dunston Checks In.” It’s got Jason Alexander and Matt Lebanc. Plus, here’s the film’s description on IMDB:

    “Young boy befriends larcenous orangutan in luxury hotel.”

    I think the film’s producers were psychic because they made this movie for Videogum in 1996.

  14. Correction: no Matt Lebanc. Must’ve been thinking of something else. Sorry. But still. “Dunston Checks In” is worth it (as in still bad).

  15. Lynn  |   Posted on Dec 2nd, 2008 +1

    You should get a crappy teen movie up in here. Summer Catch?

    Freddie Prinze Jr should be enough said.

    • bj  |   Posted on Dec 4th, 2008 +1

      No, Down to You is Freddie Prinze, Jr’s worst movie. That movie is terrible. (Julia Stiles sucks pretty hard in it too. Not even Selma Blair as a porn star redeems that movie.)

      Simply Irresistible and Down to You would make a nice double feature.

      • “I am so depressed about my break up, I think I’ll drink some shampoo.”

        wasn’t that not julia stiles in that movie, but some other girl? Monica Potter or something?

  16. I saw someone with a “Vote for Pedro” shirt today and i wanted to poo on his face. Napoleon Dynomite!!!!! Any movie that was a full blown cultural phenomenon (at least a four years ago high school and college phenomenon) and is that suckbaggy needs to be reviewed.

  17. nora  |   Posted on Dec 2nd, 2008 0

    i once again nominate “jawbreaker.” its supposed to be a dark comedy, only there is literally nothing funny in the entire movie. just girls being terrible and sort of feeling weird about murdering people. mostly its just painful to watch. you wont get that time back, but you will get to see a lot of really terrible shades of lipstick.

    • I remember loving that movie when I was younger. I have a super vivid memory of my best friend & I watching it and imagining how awesomely dressed and sarcastic we were going to be as 16 year olds, and then came the scene where the girls decide to penetrate their dead friend with a hairbrush to make it look like she was raped and murdered and we were like “Man, high school is going to be so intense”.

      I know I am super late to this party, but I felt compelled to share that.

  18. Chadams  |   Posted on Dec 2nd, 2008 0

    The Last Kiss: THIRDED
    Anything with Freddie Prinze Jr. should reviewed or ruled out & disqualified for having Freddie Prinze Jr. in it. (As should any movie with Robin Williams in it.)

  19. mountyboy  |   Posted on Dec 2nd, 2008 0

    THE FAMILY STONE

    it is truly the worst movie EVER. and after you suffer through it, you’ll know exactly which scene to post: THE DINNER TABLE SCENE.

  20. amy  |   Posted on Dec 3rd, 2008 0

    When I was a kid, I remember seeing a terrible movie with Bill Cosby called

    LEONARD PART 6

    I thought it was hysterically funny back then, but now realize it could very well be the worst movie ever.

  21. Heather  |   Posted on Dec 3rd, 2008 0

    I would also like to show my support for The Family Stone and The Last Kiss. Though I haven’t seen The Last Kiss yet something about it just screams bad movie.

  22. Paul  |   Posted on Dec 3rd, 2008 0

    How about the worst James Bond movie of all time: A View to a Kill, in which Roger Moore is so old that he needs a stunt runner for tthe Eiffel Tower scenes. It’s hilariously bad, but also very sad if you flip the order of the films and imagine that the young Bond of Casino Royale will eventually become this incompetent dirty old man.

  23. fred  |   Posted on Dec 3rd, 2008 +2

    ellen page has SUCH amazing range. she could play anything. a pregnant teenager, a crazy teenager, a crazy pregnant teenager, a whiny petulant teenager…anything.

  24. Xiphias  |   Posted on Dec 3rd, 2008 +1

    “I like the idea of a movie about characters who don’t learn anything and don’t change, because I think that’s very true to life. People rarely learn anything, and they even more rarely change.”

    Gabe, I think you need to spend more time not watching TV if that is what you think real people are like

  25. I get behind the Smart People: Worst Movie Ever movement whole-heartedly. Sorry talented actors (not SJP), this movie brings out the worst in you. Ellen Page who I enjoyed in Juno (I’ll admit to it!) just doesn’t know what to do here to be interesting, human. Dennis Quaid is sad-sack to nth degree in a very dull way, and bleak and just a douchebag. And THC, can’t save any of it. No one is a treat here.

  26. alissa  |   Posted on Dec 4th, 2008 0

    i saw Smart People, but i have no real memory of it. because the lead in video was Strange Wilderness, and by the time that thing was over i had finished the bottle o’vodka off. i wish i had been drinking during The Last Kiss. good god that was self-indulgent crap. and also, i am now reminded of the movie theater scene in Ghost World. “after about 5 minutes of this movie you’re gonna wish you had 10 beers.”

  27. “Smart People” is like a stoner trying to tell you about “Wonderboys” and “Garden State” and “The Squid And The Whale” all at once. Except, you know, by the mind of a very stoned person. Also, fuck Thomas Hayden Church. He must’ve thought he was back on “Wings” the way he acted in this shitefest. THC (get it?) is the worst.

  28. radio zero  |   Posted on Dec 4th, 2008 0

    while Smart People is a horrible, gut wrenching drain of a movie…it is hardly any of these actors worst offense…..

    Dennis Quaid – try sitting through Undercover Blues…in that movie he shows his range by being annoyingly happy and quick witted while juggling his baby and fighting hitmen around every corner. UGH…

    Sarah Jessica Parker – The Family Stone is PAINFUL to watch, and she was one of the worst offenders in that heaping pile of crap. SJP, we want you gossiping and shopping and having unmarried sex with middle aged men….please stick to your strengths.

    Thomas Haden Church – Spiderman III – Horrendous….Feel Good….Garbage…..”I Forgive You For Killing My Uncle”…maybe so….but we will never forgive you for inflicting that movie on us.

    Ellen Page – she is young…..give her time….for now….Smart People is her low point….though Juno does get fairly annoying upon repeated viewings…

  29. CC  |   Posted on Dec 4th, 2008 0

    Cabin Boy. Cabin Boy is the worst movie of all time. Hands down. A close second: Dr. T and the Women.

  30. cr  |   Posted on Dec 4th, 2008 +1

    I was on a flight to the Caribbean not long ago and a movie called “Meet Dave” with Eddie Murphy was shown. I submit that as a contender. Then on the flight back “Get Smart” was shown. I submit that as contender #2. Both are awful, awful, awful.

  31. machu  |   Posted on Dec 4th, 2008 0

    this movie is not good, but its not terrible either… that being said i think this is the best worst movie ever review youve written

  32. Naomi  |   Posted on Dec 5th, 2008 -1

    Got to tell you,I didn’t hate smart people

  33. They misspelled “In Memoriam” on the blackboard behind Dennis Quaid. He is not a smart people, apparently.

  34. MANOS: HANDS OF FATE.

    Worst. Ever. Hands. Down.

    • Joe  |   Posted on Jan 5th, 2009 0

      While I agree that except in the MST3K verison it was unbearably horrible, the fact that it was made by a fertilizer salesman and El Paso community theater people disqualifies it.

  35. oh yeah…shouldve included this: http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,1068572,00.html

  36. Chuck  |   Posted on Dec 6th, 2008 0

    Oh, there are worse movies out there…. From Justin to Kelly, Willard, House of the Dead, Any J Lo flick…I agree, this was pretty bad tho.

  37. Courtney  |   Posted on Dec 8th, 2008 +1

    Who said ‘House of the Dead?’ I fucking hated that movie. I’m so glad I’m not the only person who saw that piece of crap. Plus I have another nomination: ‘How to Lose Frineds and Alienate People.’ That is the worst fucking movie I have ever seen in a long time. It aims to be a comedy and it’s crap and it also stars Simong Pegg all the more reason for it to be nominated because he’s not funny. I would also like to nominate ‘Feardotcom’ and ‘The Heartbreak Kid’ (2007 version not the original).

  38. Morpheus  |   Posted on Dec 8th, 2008 +3

    So my friend and I saw this by mistake because we’re retards.

    We thought we were going to see Get Smart instead because we’d heard it was due to come out soon and it might be funny. So we headed to a Caps playoff game only to watch them lose to the Flyers and we were bummed. We needed a pick-me-up, so we headed into the cinema next to the arena afterwards and saw the shorthanded red digital letting next to the showtimes for “Smart”. We thought this was short for “Get Smart”. We didn’t even know what “Smart People” was at the time.

    Fifteen or twenty minutes into the movie, we look at each other and say “I don’t think this is the right movie, where’s Steve Carell?” So there we were, two adult males, sitting in a movie filled with couples and girlfriends who went together because they couldn’t get their significant others to go with them. Two guys sitting there next to each other wearing Capitals Ovechkin jerseys. What a sight. I’m sure we got some odd looks.

    We actually stuck it out because the tickets were so expensive, hoping it would get better. What a horribly depressing way to spend the day. Watch your team lose and then watch a craptacular movie right afterwards with Horseface Parker in it.

  39. Did you do “Jack Frost” yet? Cuz that movie is super not good.

  40. I know I keep on saying it…but WOULD SOMEONE AGREE THAT HARVARD MAN WAS REALLY THAT BAD. It’s what I use to gauge the ultimate horribleness of something, for example “that _______ was so bad that I rather be stuck in a room watching Harvard Man for the rest of my life.”

  41. Nick Ray-Keeffe  |   Posted on Dec 10th, 2008 +1

    Watch The Happening. Your search will end.

    • That is indeed a very bad movie but I argue that it is bad in a way that is entertaining. I mean, Mark Wahlberg tensely bargaining with a tree is pretty funny, then him dramatically realizing it’s plastic is even more pretty funny. Also very pretty funny: the fact that he tells the tree that he’s trying to give it good vibes, because it made me remember Marky Mark & the Funky Bunch’s Good Vibrations.

  42. How about the movie Collateral? Crazy Tom Cruis as a crazy hitman and Jamie Foxx as a humble, tight-lipped cab driver; one word horrible.

    • Joey_M  |   Posted on Jan 5th, 2009 0

      That’s not even the worst Jamie Foxx movie directed by Michael Mann! You’ve never seen the Miami Vice movie, have you?

      Wait, I’m new. Has that one been done yet? If not it needs to be. I’d say Colin Farrell’s beard alone qualifies it.

  43. Vader  |   Posted on Dec 12th, 2008 0

    Nope, sorry. “Vulgar The Clown” is the worst movie of all time. From writing to production. From Acting to anything else. EVERYTHING about this movie sucks. Anyone involved with this movie in ANY way shape or form, should kill themselves….

    Vader out!

  44. I Win  |   Posted on Dec 12th, 2008 -2

    For Your Consideration:
    Vertical Limit
    I was locked in a room and forced to face the screen showing this “gem” in a special advance screening. I was considering suing the studio because they posted people to block my egress.

    PS Mr/Ms Gabe:
    I’ve had to sit through “My Boss’s Daughter” on a two-arm aphoresis table; meaning I could neither move my arms nor extricate myself from the table for hours.
    This fact, I believe, Karmically entitles me to say the following: Suffer mightily you pretentious swine. I hope you write, produce, direct, and star in a worst movie of all time, so that I may marvel at your pretentiousness.
    Pretentiousness on pretentiousness on pretentiousness; how very Meta.

  45. marybinary  |   Posted on Dec 12th, 2008 0

    Because I Said So with Diane Keaton. I checked it out because i love the old Woody Allen Diane Keaton and I was really bored. I sat through five minutes and i had to turn it off before i yarfed all over myself and this is coming from someone who stomached at least half of Dr. T and the Women. Ugggh that was awful too

  46. toni  |   Posted on Dec 12th, 2008 0

    August Rush. “The music is everywhere. All you have to do is listen.” Plus Robin Williams plays a pimp.

  47. Ladder 49 – I was almost excommunicated from my college for hating it… but it’s awful…

    Solaris – I’ve never met anyone who has watched the whole thing

    Stuck on Me – just, why?

  48. funoka  |   Posted on Dec 15th, 2008 +1

    Four Christmases is horrible this Xmas season. Have a group of good actors ever been so wasted in a movie? Some of the Swingers boys make little more than cameos with Vince Vaughn. Robert Duvall and Carol Kane are thrown in as afterthoughts. It’s also a total waste of Dwight Yoakam — who was such a great bad guy in Sling Blade. Don’t get sucked into going like I did with my wife.

  49. Alexeron  |   Posted on Dec 20th, 2008 0

    The lakehouse: not only is does it make no sense with the time travel thing the romantic relationship is unbelievable (even for Keanu Reeves)

  50. dd  |   Posted on Dec 20th, 2008 0

    What about The Beautician and the Beast…:]

    two words-Fran Drescher

  51. Marry me, Gabe!

  52. oliverand  |   Posted on Jan 14th, 2009 +1

    just because there are bigger problems in the world than death doesnt mean people dont struggle with it. theres loads of movies that deal with dramatic issues way more shallow than death. thats a really lousy reason to put smart people on this list. it was a real movie about what happens when a close family is rocked with loss of a loved one.

  53. dana  |   Posted on Jan 22nd, 2009 0

    Great review – terrible movie! The only thing that kept me watching was the scenery – it was shot in Pittsburgh, where I live, and the Goodwill, Young Republicans, and SJP’s apartment (outside) scenes were shot in the neighborhood where I live. Otherwise I would have never finished it. I did enjoy THC, he made it tolerable enough.

  54. Boy, this really does look terrible. You know what was an absolute horrible S.J. Parker film? Striking Distance where she and Bruce Willis were riverboat cops. Unwatchable.

  55. Kenny   |   Posted on Feb 10th, 2009 0

    i find it humorous how many sarah jessica parker movies there are in the hunt

  56. I’d like to nominate Juno even though I couldn’t actually watch it for more than the first 10 minutes. I just got tired of screaming “Shut up!” Maybe the actors stopped talking in that unfunny, smug, precious tone of pointless I’m-so-cleverness. Maybe everybody eventually ceased sounding like the exact same self-absorbed screenwriter, and developed some unique characters. Guess I may never know.

  57. Jo  |   Posted on Apr 8th, 2009 -2

    I’d like to see what you consider the best movie of all time. I haven’t decided yet on whether or not you actually have a decent taste in movies or not. Dreamcatcher I agree with you on, but this movie and Across the Universe…maybe it’s just too artistic for you to really understand. And also remember, just because something is unpopular, doesn’t make it horrible. Our country’s overall IQ has really been diminishing since Harry Potter came out. And obviously you missed the entire point of this movie…it’s making fun of those “smart people”.

    • I hate when people blame someone’s dislike of something on them not “get”ting it. Perhaps it was too artistic for Gabe to understand, or perhaps Gabe has different taste in movies than you do, because you are two different individual people. When someone writes a long and detailed review explaining exactly what they don’t like about the movie, chances are they “got” it. There are lots of things I understand perfectly yet do not like.

  58. Orly?  |   Posted on Jul 23rd, 2009 0

    You guys should really stick to your shitty music reviews.

  59. I think it’s kind of funny that your first two paragraphs have nothing whatsoever to do with the story contained in the movie. I don’t feel like arguing with your review; I liked the movie – there are some beautiful moments in it, I think, and I thoroughly enjoyed Dennis Quaid’s performance. I don’t give a shit that you don’t agree with me. There are plenty of very good movies out there about important world issues – watch those, if you like them. Some writer somewhere felt like writing about these characters – leave him the fuck alone and let him write about them. If you don’t like it, don’t watch it and shut up about it.

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