With no job, no wife and no family, Warren is desperate to find something meaningful in his thoroughly unimpressive life. He sets out on a journey of self-discovery, exploring his roots across Nebraska in the 35-foot motor home in which he had planned to drive around the country with his late wife. His ultimate destination is Denver, where he hopes to bridge the gulf between himself and his somewhat estranged daughter by arriving early to help with her wedding preparations. Unfortunately, he hates the groom-to-be, Randall (Dermot Mulrooney - My Best Friends Wedding), a profoundly mediocre, underachieving waterbed salesman. To make matters worse, Warren is appalled by the free-spirited nature and boorish behaviour of his soon-to-be in-laws (Kathy Bates - The Waterboy, Titanic and Howard Hesseman - Gridlockd). Warren grows swiftly convinced that his new purpose in life is to stop his daughters marriage.
During this darkly comic and painful odyssey, Warren details his adventures and shares his observations with an unexpected new friend and confessor Ndugu Umbo, a six-year-old Tanzanian orphan whom he sponsors for $22 a month through an organization that advertises on TV. From these long letters filled with a lifetime of things unsaid, Warren begins perhaps for the first time to glimpse himself and the live he has lived.
Right, now that that rants off, I can tell you what a genuinely entertaining and enjoyable film "About Schmidt" is.
Warren Schmidt is a 66 year old insurance executive on the verge of retirement. We meet him on his last day in the office, clock-watching as the final few seconds click round until he is finally free from the drab enclosed box that his office looks like. However the joy and freedom of retirement that most of us look forward to is actually something of dread for Mr Schmidt. Waking up on his first day without work, he realises that he is without purpose in his life, he has nothing to do, and no-one cares whether he does it or not. His wife of 42 years annoys him in so many ways, his only daughter lives miles away in another state and seldom visits or seems to want to visit, and the company he loyally served for so many years is getting on seemingly very well without him. Cast adrift and aimless he is even more at a loss when his wife suddenly dies, leaving a huge void in his normal existence. His one solace and chance of expression are the heartfelt letters he writes to his sponsored foster child he has adopted through a charity in Tanzania.
However all is not lost. The 35 foot Winnebago traveller he bought with the idea of journeying around America with his wife is put to use as Schmidt begins an extraordinary voyage of self-discovery and re-evaluation, culminating with his daughter's marriage to a dubious looking potential son-in-law.
What the film then presents are a series of poignant scenes as Schmidt gets to know himself on his long journey. Some of these scenes are tender, some even tear-jerking and yes some of them are distinctly amusing but all of them provide insights into the emptiness inside Schmidt.
Jack Nicholson once again puts in a terrific performance as Schmidt and was obviously well worthy of his Oscar nomination. For an actor normally associated with extravagate, almost over the top performances it was most interesting to see this great actor playing almost within himself. Fine supporting performances from Katy Bates (also nominated for an Oscar) June Squibb and Dermot Mulroney.
I wouldn't say the film is a total masterpiece, indeed some of the scenes on the road trip are quite bizarre and I'm not sure what they were meant to represent, the scene when Schmidt meets the other Winnebago travellers for example. Also the film can become almost cloying with its sentimentality and verges on depression at more than one point.
I'm not surprised so many other reviewers here slammed it for not being funny or for being too serious, as I say to decorate the box with quotes like "A Very Funny Movie" is misleading at the very least.
That said I would still recommend this movie to any fan of poignant, thoughtful and intelligent films. Wait for the final scene and make sure you have a hankie ready!
In a culture where who you are is generally the answer to the question "What do you do?", Schmidt is suddenly nobody. He has no hobbies, pets, or outside interests. Only a wife of 42 years, Helen (June Squibb), with whom he feels only a fading connection, and one good male pal, with whom he has an apocalyptic falling out. An example of Warren's biggest thrill of an empty day is a sundae at the local Dairy Queen. Sure, he's recently purchased, at Helen's urging, a 35-foot Winnebago in which they'll tour the country. She's enthused; he's not. But it shortly becomes a mute point as Helen abruptly dies soon into the film. At the funeral, Warren is joined by his semi-estranged daughter Jeannie (Hope Davis) and her fiance Randall Hertzel (Dermot Mulroney), both over from Denver for the burial. Once they've returned to Colorado, Schmidt's appearance and lifestyle deteriorates. Then he decides to set out in the Winnebago for Denver, ostensibly to attend his daughter's nuptials, but also with the hope of talking her out of marrying the "numbskull".
Jack Nicholson turns in perhaps one of his best roles playing a man desperately seeking meaning and stimulation in a barren existence, certainly at 180 degree from the actor's own life. And he stumbles across more stimulation than he wants with Roberta Hertzel (Kathy Bates), the divorced and unabashedly irrepressible mother of Randall, in a hot tub scene that is tribute to the healthy self-image and self-assurance of Ms. Bates. Davis and Mulroney are both good as Hope and Randall respectively, the former who has Warren as a perpetual source of exasperation, and the latter who would cause clinical depression in any prospective father-in-law. And, lo and behold, there's Howard Hesseman as Larry, Randall's natural father. Remember him as Johnny "Fever" in the TV sitcom WKRP IN CINCINNATI?
Despite a depressing undertone, especially for one like myself onIy 12 years from retirement, I very much enjoyed ABOUT SCHMIDT except for the ending, which I thought too contrived, too pat, and not likely to buoy Warren up over the long haul. It is, however, good PR for those organizations that solicit one's sponsorship of a Third World child. Was there an agenda here?
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