on 12 July 2005
You really do have to wonder about the skill of Hollywood's marketing people sometimes. Why oh why have they marketed "About Schmidt" as a comedy when it so plainly isn't? It's not really even a black comedy in the true sense. It's almost like they are so scared that if they present the film as the sensitive tale of old age and a journey of self-discovery in the twilight years then no-one will want to see the film, so hey it's much easier to slap "Comedy" on the posters and the DVD boxes and get the punters rolling in.
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!
on 15 January 2009
I am a secondary schoolteacher and for the past couple of years have used this film in the classroom to explore themes and get 14 year olds used to analytical thinking and writing. It is surprising that a film with adult themes can grip and interest this audience but it does.
One of the reasons it does is because of the absolute brilliance of Jack Nicholson's performance. He is totally convincing and utterly believable as the man who has felt he has lived a life of self sacrifice and served others when he has actually neglected them and himself and left himself with nothing at the end of his working life. His epiphany at the end of the film is a magnificent piece of film direction. We know exactly what his tears mean and we are with him 100%. We feel the hope and wonder that he must feel at being on the verge of the amazing discovery that his life can be so completely different than it has ever been before, even though he is nearly at the end of it; proving that:
It is never too late to change,
And it is never impossible to do so.
A wonderful film that has the possibility of truly changing lives.
My heartfelt thanks to the writer, the director, and Jack Nicholson for a truly outstanding performance, probably the best of his career.
on 29 October 2011
I really enjoyed this film. In short it is the story of a man who is in the process of retiring. His sense of loss is compounded by the sudden death of his wife and the upcoming marriage of his daughter, to a man, it can be safely said Mr Schmidt does not approve. These events lead Schmidt to search for meaning in a life that has lost its meaning. The search for meaning takes him on a road journey to the places from his youth. There is a sadness that runs through the film, but the beauty of About Schmidt is that it finds humour in the mundanity of life. Jack Nicholson is fantastic in this film. I have not always been a fan of his, but I found his performance to be sensitive and understated. Director Alexander Payne has a talent for writing bitersweet tales and if you enjoyed Alexander Payne's other exploration of loss: Sideways, then this is well worth giving a try.
on 8 December 2015
"Hilarious ... A Comic Treasure" (5 Stars from Uncut) "A Masterpiece, Nichollson gives one of his finest comic performances" (5 Stars from The Guardian. I had heard good things about this film and after reading the foregoing blurb on the DVD box was looking forward to something pretty special. I was however ultimately to be disappointed. It is neither "Hilarious" nor "A Masterpiece". About the only good thing that I can commend about the film is Jack Nicholson's performance which is adequate in my view rather than being brilliant (as in "As Good As It Gets" for example). I can certainly identify with Schmidt's ennui, having spent most of my professional career as an actuary as well. Sorry, but this doesn't float my boat at all
on 6 May 2014
This is a superb film with Jack Nicholson (an actor whom I already admired greatly) giving the performance of his career in unusually restrained mode as a newly-widowed and retired man dealing with his loneliness and unexpected grief. It was billed as a comedy, but the words "bitter-sweet" should have been added - it was indeed laugh-aloud funny but also extremely moving .A life-crisis film which doesn't hit one wrong note Alexander Payne ("Sideways"), one of the US's most interesting and accomplished young directors, seems to have made this genre his forte.
on 18 August 2004
I was not expecting too much from this film but was over come by its subtlety, intelligence, humour and honesty. How many other Hollywood films would you associate those four words with?
Jack Nicholson is the eponymous Warren Schmidt, a newly retired, newly widowed man who, with suddenly much time on his hands begins to assess and reflect on his life and its impact on others around him. He doesnt like what he sees and sets about making amends, and so begins a road trip that takes him from his home in Nebraska to his daughters wedding in Denver. Before he goes, he sponsors a child after having a pang of concscience whilst watching a television advert and it is via his letters to this little boy, Ndugu, that we have Scmidts narration to the story.
Along the way Schmidt makes stops at places from his childhood and we get more of an insight into a man who has let life pass him by while he was number crunching at an insurance company.
The film is packed with clever observations and desperately poignant moments as well as several side splittingly funny scenes although the overall tone is dark. The scenery and photgraphy is bleak (but beautifully shot)and deliberately so.
I have read several reviews of this movie and many reviewers (professional and amateur alike) have suggested that 'we all know a Warren Schmidt'. I would go further than that and say we can all see Warren Schmidt in ourselves - to a greater or lesser extent - and thats exactly what makes the film so powerful.
I would suggest that persons with a sensitive persuasion and an eye for subtlety would find this film hugely rewarding - I have heard the film described as boring but can honestly say it is the most thought provoking film I have seen in years. If you want explosions and ridiculous CGI effects this is not the film for you. If however you want to be made to think, even about uncomfortable questions, made to laugh loud and made to cry this is an absolute must.
on 15 September 2011
Fist let me say I have always enjoyed Jack Nicholson's performances in films even the early ones.
His performance in this film is a startingly revelation.
He is now considered a senior actor. Most actors of his generation are still playing younger roles with even younger actresses as their romantic interest.
Not so the mighty Jack. He is honesty in the extreme in that he is brave enough to act alongside a woman of his own age. Just how many other male performers in US films today do we see doing this? I can't think of any others.
The film itself is magnificent and I have watched it through several times. Each new viewing I find yet another facet of Jack's performance to marvel anew at.
He surely should have received the Oscar- losing out to that mediocre actor from 'The Pianist'. A travesty in itself.
I reiterate I love Jack and love the movie.
on 7 August 2013
About Schmidt is one of Jack Nicholson's finest hours. Two in fact as that is the running time of the movie.
The plot very quickly is that Nicholson's wife suddenly dies, just as the two have retired and now he has a mobile home winnebago all to himself. He is a lonely man, his daughter is too busy for him and she is about to get married to a loser.
The winning formula here is the observations of Nicholson on other people. It is fantastic, and very true to life. And while there are a few genuinely laugh out loud moments you shouldn't be taken in by the press blurb on the packaging. They claim that the film is hilarious etc. Well it can be, but this is also a hard hitting drama.
It's hard to think of any bad Nicholson performances in his career and anyone that cannot understand this film's message maybe lives in a bubble?
A great genuine film, a Nicholson classic.
This film is about Warren Schmidt, a Nebraskan in his mid sixties, who is newly retired from his job as assistant vice president for an insurance firm. He is clearly a man who is not in touch with his feelings or his life, living it by the book, so to speak. He is disconnected from the reality around him, living as unobtrusively as he can. This is evident right from the beginning of the film.
His life really begins when he retires, as a series of life jarring changes occur. His wife of forty two years, Helen (June Squibb), suddenly dies. She is a domineering woman whom he loved on some level but for whom he was unable to express much feeling while she was still living, even though there were many things about her that irritated him.
Their only child, Jeannie (Hope Davis), lives in Denver, Colorado and is about to get married to Randall Hertzel (Dermot Mulroney), a dimwitted, waterbed salesman whom Schmidt cannot abide. He learns some truths about the real status of his own relationship with his daughter, Jeannie, and it is not the idealized relationship that he thought he had. In fact, he learns just how disconnected he is from his daughter, who is really a veritable stranger to him, as was his wife. Moreover, not even his best friend, Ray (Lou Cariou), was whom Schmidt thought him to be.
When Schmidt travels to Colorado for the wedding, he stays with the groom's mother, Roberta Hertzel, a much married, earthy, and passionate divorcee, who is comfortable with herself and not afraid to express her feelings. She is a sort of flower child/earth mother holdover from the late nineteen sixties, early seventies.
Lacking an emotional connection with any other human being, Schmidt sponsors a six year old, Tanzanian child through a charitable agency, and begins sending him letters, detailing his life as he sees it. It is more of a catharsis for Schmidt, rather than an attempt at real communication with a child. This contrivance also serves to tell the viewer just how Schmidt perceives his life. When he receives a letter with something the child has sent him, the idea that someone has actually thought of him opens the emotional floodgates for Schmidt and unleashes all those repressed feelings of anger, sadness, loss, pain, suffering, in one fell swoop.
Jack Nicholson gives an excellent performance as the repressed Midwesterner who only begins to get in touch with his feelings the end of his life spectrum. He gives a good account of a man who is making his way in, what is for him, uncharted territory. Funny, poignant and sad, it is a performance that is well nuanced. June Squibb is perfectly cast in the role of the Helen, Schmidt's wife. Her apple cheeked countenance and dumpy, matronly look exemplify the stereotypic senior citizen housewife. Helen's penchant for order and cleanliness is brought home by Ms. Squibb's performance.
Kathy Bates is wonderful as the somewhat bohemian, earth mother figure in the film. Her much talked about nude scene was natural and in keeping with her role. I applaud her courage in doing it, given the emphasis on thinness in Hollywood. While many reviled her for doing it, hers is a much more realistic reflection of what the body of a woman in her fifties or sixties actually looks like. Let me tell you, Jack Nicholson's body doesn't look much better either, but he was not reviled for it. There still continues to be a double standard for men and women, when it comes to excess avoirdupois.
Dermot Mulroney is terrific as the sensitive, easy going groom to be who seems to lack the full quid. Mulroney makes his character quite a likable one. Unfortunately, Hope Davis, as Jeannie Schmidt, serves to make her character a thoroughly unpleasant one. It is unclear, however, whether this was the intended effect. Howard Hesseman is wonderful as the groom's father, Larry Hertzel, and he gets a lot of mileage out of this bit part. Lou Cariou is excellent as Schmidt's erstwhile best friend, Ray.
All in all, this a film well worth watching. The baby boomers out there should take note. It is still not too late to avoid ending up like Schmidt.
on 21 August 2003
Warren Schmidt is a man whose very essence is that of "being bottled up." A very decent but equally very unprepossessing man, he has gone through sixty-six years of life largely unable to connect either with his inner self or with others. He is in fact so very ordinary that he represents a sort of "everyman." His story, told simply yet not without eloquence, is about two journeys upon which he embarks following his retirement. One of these journeys – the one lying on the surface, representing his interactions with all those whom he knows – is a tragi-comic mix which, at the end, gets him no closer to himself than he was at the start. The other journey is largely beneath the surface and told much more sparingly but in the end with a sense of satisfaction that is quite startling. This satisfaction, to the viewer, doesn't necessarily sink in immediately; in fact, I can imagine that some – perhaps many – "just don't get it." But I did, and was left with a feeling of closure. And with a sense of total awe at how perfectly Jack Nicholson totally subsumed himself in the title role.
The very ordinariness of Schmidt is made apparent in the opening scene. He is watching the clock on his very last day of work in his Omaha office (thence to go to his retirement dinner that evening). But not a second before the clock strikes 5:00. His inability to communicate, to connect with others, is made apparent as early as at his retirement dinner. It is to continue – in this "journey lying on the surface" – throughout the story.
Schmidt is ill-prepared to deal with anything other than routine. Retirement is "other than routine"; thoughts of how to deal with it seemingly never entered his mind. He drops back in the office unannounced, only to find himself neither wanted nor needed. Largely at the prodding of his wife, he has already purchased a large Winnebago, so that the two of them can "see the country in their golden years." And then, just barely days into retirement, his wife dies. The funeral service is hardly a galvanizing event; Schmidt's inability to communicate, to open up, even to his daughter, soon to be married to a fiance he dislikes, further estranges him from those closest to him.
Now left to fend for himself, we see how ill-prepared for life he really is. The mess begins to pile up as he attempts to deal with restructuring his life, beginning with his wife's possessions. In a shoebox, he finds decades-old love letters to his wife; he had once been cuckolded by his best friend. But at the same time, he undertakes a seemingly insignificant task that will eventually lead to catharsis for him: Through an international foster child agency, he "adopts" a six-year-old Tanzanian boy. Counting on a cloak of anonymity, he begins a series of letters to the boy; his very first efforts at communicating his true feelings.
All of this takes up barely the first 30 minutes of the story. The balance largely depicts his RV travels, first in an effort to go back in time to rediscover his roots (not exactly a success when he finds his boyhood home replaced by a tire store and students in his college fraternity disinterested in him) and then to go from Omaha to Denver for his daughter's upcoming wedding. On the way, an outgoing fellow RV-er befriends him, and when the RV-er's equally outgoing wife and Schmidt are left alone while the husband leaves to fetch some beer, once again Schmidt's inability to communicate, now compounded by his inability to "read" other people, has its embarrassingly sad consequences.
Schmidt eventually arrives in Denver for his daughter's wedding. The whole affair, like much of his life, is almost entirely anticlimactic, save for one escapade between Schmidt and the groom's lusty mother, played to a faretheewell by Kathy Bates. It is at this time that one wishes that Schmidt would break out of his shell, and his failure to do so cannot be blamed on this earth mother of a woman, who gave him her best shot.
All of this leaves Schmidt little more than numb – numb as he'd been throughout – as, finally , he leaves Denver and arrives back home in Omaha. He scoops up some weeks' worth of mail, ignoring all but one.
And that one he doesn't ignore? It is the one that finally gives him the emotional release he had bottled up inside him for a lifetime. Yes, it was from that Tanzanian boy. And Nicholson-as-Schmidt, in a most memorable fade-out scene, undergoes what I can only describe as "simply one of the most transformative pieces of acting it's ever been my pleasure to see." And it gives the viewer the release needed as well. It lingers; it truly does.
This is a "small" picture, not for all tastes, about very ordinary people, most of whom are hardly memorable and who fade into the background when their purposes have been served. The casting is nigh-perfect for these ordinary, forgettable people, save for Kathy Bates, who occupies the only unforgettable personage in the movie aside from Schmidt himself.
But this is really Jack's picture. The extent to which he has made himself into Schmidt is remarkable. It is an understatement to say that he subsumed himself in the role: with his seething-beneath-the-surface dissatisfaction and emptiness, his ennui, his communicative constriction and his "everyman" as "a nobody," not to mention the downsizing of his normally monstrous emotive range, Nicholson IS Schmidt. THIS is what great acting is all about.