THE MOUSTACHE GENRE COMES OF
by Kevin Bowen
published April 11, 2008
now playing nationwide.
After watching Smart People, I plan to
present to the highest filmmaking authorities evidence of the existence of a new genre. I call it the Moustache Film.
This new genre will include any and all
earnest family dramas in which the male stars each grow facial hair to stress their grounded sincerity. In Smart People, Dennis Quaid
grows a full beard to play a petulant literature professor.
Thomas Haden Church grows a light moustache to play his adopted brother, a congenital slacker graduate of the University of a Thousand
Joints. Ellen Page does not grow a moustache to play Quaid’s Alex P. Keaton of a teenage daughter. But it must have been
Smart People is the type of serious-minded, nicely observed, affectionately rendered project, from director Noam Murro, that
feels like the cinematic version of kissing your sister (or in this case, your uncle - just watch!). Indie, but not too indie. A little
different, but far from daring. Yet thoughtful, well written and strongly acted, which on some level you must respect.
Quaid plays a self-sufficient, self-absorbed genius professor. His idea of writing a book is to pen an unreadably
brilliant treatise on poetry. His idea of a date is pontificating for 45 minutes on literary theory over dinner. Escaping his attention are
his protective but frigid daughter, his collegian son, and the sibling that has moved into the spare room. Not to mention the name of every
student who has ever taken his class.
When he suffers a seizure and loses his
license, he suddenly must depend on those little people surrounding him known as “relatives.” Long scarred by the death of his wife, he
lightly and clumsily treads into a relationship with a younger doctor (Sarah Jessica Parker), a former student whose student-dome he does not
recall. The imperfect romance blossoms, but his personality is not exactly suited. He is a man without social skills awakening to his need for
The film’s intelligent ordinariness gets a
wonderful burst from Quaid. He is part of a quiet trend that’s going largely unremarked-upon – the young generational star from the eighties
who is now making a living off wrinkled brows and pattern baldness. (John Cusack in Grace Is Gone. Matt Dillon in Crash and
Factotum). Recently I watched The Right Stuff, with Quaid's boyishly sunny-faced portrayal of the Mercury Program astronaut
Gordon Cooper. This makes his job here even more interesting. There seems to be a multitude of lives between the two
What makes Quaid’s professor sufferable is
that in watching his condensed story, we see an unrealized task that we face each day – how to be a better person. While his situation
might be more greatly exaggerated than most, it’s still a struggle shared by all. And for that reason, he never loses us. Even when he can’t
remember our name.