Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) has arrived at several crossroads at once, when he retires from a lifetime of service for an Insurance company. His wife of 42 years Helen (June Squibb) collapses and dies, leaving him totally adrift. His only daughter Jeannie (Hope Davis) is about to be married to the very mediocre, underachieving water-bed salesman, Randall (Dermot Mulroney), who Warren dislikes intensely. Desperate to find some meaning to his life, Warren sets out on a journey in the 35 foot motor home in which he and his wife were planning to drive around the country. His final destination is Denver, where the wedding will take place, where he is appalled by the boorish behaviour of his soon-to-be in-laws (Kathy Bates and Howard Hesseman).
Review by Louise Keller:
A portrait of a man in crisis, About Schmidt is a story about crossroads and the struggle to find direction. As the film begins, we meet a man watching the clock. He is watching the second hand approaching the hour with an air of finality. His desk is bare and his life at work is over. Soon we discover what it is that makes Warren Schmidt tick, as he struggles with his own self worth on a daily basis. He suddenly questions everything in his life: ‘Who is this old women who is living in my house?’ he muses. His impulse to sponsor a foster child in Tanzania becomes the catalyst for his journey of discovery, as he voices his feelings for the very first time. And it’s through his words to Ndugu, a six year old illiterate orphan, that we learn about this man and his life. It’s in Warren’s frank letters to an unknown child on the other side of the world that he is able to express himself at last – to divulge how he is irritated by his wife’s little foibles and habits, his daughter’s distance and irritating fiancé who is not good enough for his little girl. The success of About Schmidt lies in Jack Nicholson’s nuanced superlative performance and a script that simply sings with honesty. Nicholson makes every little thing count – from a flick of his toe to the way he peers through the top of his eyelids. There’s no trace of that ‘horny little devil’ from Witches of Eastwick, or indeed any other character Nicholson has played. This is Nicholson playing Schmidt. And we understand his Warren Schmidt, whose road to salvation lies in his belated and unexpected confrontation with self. There’s a fine line between comedy and tragedy, and director Alexander Payne has found the perfect balance. The script works magically, allowing minimal actions to create maximum impact. It’s funny, melancholy, revealing, heart warming and overwhelmingly honest. Sensitively directed and beautifully cast, About Schmidt is a comedy filled with pathos and tragic undertones. Marvellous performances by Hope Davis as the rebellious daughter, Dermot Mulroney as the pony-tailed pyramid-scheme selling no-hoper snag with the handlebar moustache and the wonderful Kathy Bates, whose foul-mouthed, future mother-in-law with orgasm on her mind, is simply tops. (Wait until the night Jacuzzi scene!) Satisfying, moving and intensely revealing, About Schmidt is a stunning film that engages every second of its 124 minute running time. Don’t miss it.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
If it wasn’t for the casting of Jack Nicholson, About Schmidt could have ended up as boring as batshit. The secret of its success as film is the baggage that Nicholson brings with him; our multi-verse experiences of him provide the backdrop and edge for his character. There’s no such possibility with the written word, where the novelist conjures up character without the aid of an actor’s dimensions. On the other hand, About Schmidt is a lovely piece of writing, a subtle work of minimalist pleasures in social observation. We recognise Schmidt as a real person, and despite the many differences, we recognise some of ourselves in him. If film is best as a character study, About Schmidt is a fine example of it, where the character we explore is neither cop nor thug, hero nor villain. Where there are no dynamic peaks, nor opportunities to do extraordinary things, just the suburban realities, and where the heroics of life are found in the secret moments of coexistence or loneliness. And letters to an adopted 6 year old in Tanzania, which become the device for revealing his conflicted inner life. It’s a life with the boring bits edited in. Nicholson makes a mediocre man wondrously memorable and is proof to the story-teller’s golden rule that every life hides a story (or two).
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ABOUT SCHMIDT (M)
CAST: Jack Nicholson, Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney, Len Cariou, Howeard Hesseman, Kathy Bates
PRODUCER: Harry Gittes and Michael Besman
DIRECTOR: Alexander Payne
SCRIPT: Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor (Based on novel by Louise Begley)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: James Glennon ASC
EDITOR: Evin Tent ACE
MUSIC: Rolfe Kent
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jane Ann Stewart
RUNNING TIME: 124 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 6, 2003
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Entertainment
VIDEO RELEASE: September 1, 2003