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Vol. LXII, No. 16
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
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For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

LOOSEN UP ELLEN, YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE: Uncle Chuck (Thomas Haden Church, left) expounds his philosophy of living, which consists of enjoying life on a day-to-day basis, to his niece Vanessa (Ellen Page) and to make his point he persuades her to smoke pot for the first time in her life.

Smart People: Ellen Page Reprises Familiar Role in Comedy About a Family

Kam Williams

Is Ellen Page capable of portraying anything besides a wisecracking, suburban teenager with attitude? If not, she’s in danger of being typecast until she’s too old to play another variation of Juno, the spunky, social outcast for which she landed her Oscar-nomination.

Ellen reprises her character, albeit under a different name, in Smart People, about a dysfunctional family. Ellen plays Vanessa Wetherhold, a high school senior who spends her free time preparing for the SATs in order to get the stratospheric score that’s required in order to be accepted into Stanford University. She’s also a member of the Model U.N., the Young Republicans, and the National Honor Society, all extracurricular activities which will look good on her college application forms.

Her father, Lawrence (Dennis Quaid), a pompous Professor of English Literature at Carnegie Mellon University, has distanced himself from her and her older brother, James (Ashton Holmes), ever since the death of their mother. James attends Carnegie Mellon and has a room on campus and Vanessa lives at home with her father.

The three family members continue their separate ways until the fateful day that Lawrence hits his head and has a seizure after climbing a fence. He is taken to the emergency room where the attending physician is Dr. Janet Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker), a former student of his, who has always been attracted to her former teacher. However, Lawrence is too ill to notice her attempts to attract his attention and morosely focuses on the fact that he won’t be allowed to drive for the next six months.

A chauffeur conveniently shows up in the form of his adopted brother, Chuck (Thomas Haden Church), a homeless bohemian who’s broke and looking for a job and a place to stay. In contrast to his relatives, Chuck is a cannabis smoking bon vivant who has no ambitions beyond enjoying life on a day-to-day basis.

When he moves into their house, he takes it upon himself to bring the uptight Wetherholds out of their shells using tough love techniques. In short order he pressures Lawrence to date, loosens up awkward James by hanging out with him in the dorm, and cajoles teetotaler Vanessa into getting high for the first time by telling her that she’s a robot and needs to relax.

While the contrast between Chuck’s self-indulgence and his uptight relatives is often amusing, the film’s funniest moments by far, come from Ellen Page’s character, Vanessa. She has that sarcastic, wise cracking character down pat, as exemplified by her flat response to a telemarketer who is calling to speak to her deceased mother: “She’s been dead for many years. Whatever you’re peddling, thank you for the painful reminder.”

Juno 2, and just as inspired.

Very Good (3 stars). Rated R for profanity, sexuality, and brief teen drug and alcohol abuse. Running time: 95 minutes. Studio: Miramax Films.

For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

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