Film Review : About Schmidt (2002)

IMDB Score – 7.2
Rotten Tomato Score – 85%

Academy Award Nominee for Best Actor – Jack Nicholson
Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress – Kathy Bates

Cannes Film Festival Nominee for Palm d’Or

Directed By – Alexander Payne
Starring – Jack Nicholson, Hope Davis, Kathy Bates, June Squibb, and Dermot Mulroney

A man upon retirement embarks on a journey to his estranged daughter’s wedding only to discover more about himself and life than he ever expected.

I’ve been meaning to get out to see Alexander Payne’s new film Nebraska, which has been playing in my local art house for two weeks now. I’m going to have to get motivated or else I’m not going to be able to see it due to the five or so films that I still have left to see in this waning year. I’m a new fan of Payne. I saw Election about eight years ago and only recently revisited it on this site. I rented Sideways the year it came out and couldn’t finish it before I had to bring it back to the rental store. The Descendants was the first of his films I saw in theaters and while I loved it, I still haven’t revisited it since. There does seem to be a bit of a strange relationship I have with his films. On the one hand I find them unique and enjoyable and on the other I just can’t seem to watch them and appreciate them like some have. Hopefully Nebraska breaks that mold but until then I wanted to round out his mainstream filmography by watching About Schmidt.

The film is completely centered around the character of Warren Schmidt, played beautifully by the amazing and legendary Jack Nicholson. I don’t really know of anybody who isn’t a fan of of Jack and while his recent “retirement” from film have left most of us saddened, it’s honestly been a long time coming. We’ll still have his giant body of work to go back to and relive again and I hope his performance in this film is included because it was one of his best. The film is a character study focused directly on what happens to people when their age forces changes in their lives. Nicholson’s Schmidt goes through death, retirement, and the realization that his only daughter is getting married to somebody whom he finds intellectually substandard. It’s something that millions of Americans have gone through in their lives and will continue going through. Nicholson handles the role with subtle sadness and obvious disdain for the situation he’s in. He’s not ready for life on his own and it’s not going to get any easier. The only thing that is keeping him balanced is the six year old Tazmanian child whom he is supporting through a televised charity agency. He writes letters to this poverty stricken child like he’s writing an old friend. It’s more of a way to grasp his reality than actually wanting to inform his “foster child” of what’s going on in his life. It’s like therapy for him. This is the driving theme in this story…dealing with sadness.

Payne is used to this. His films have always been layered with emotion and usually feature somebody who is on the brink of a breakdown. George Clooney could have won an Oscar with his performance in The Descendants. Paul Giamatti SHOULD have won an Oscar for his performance in Sideways. He wasn’t even nominated. Now Bruce Dern is winning awards left and right for his portrayal of man who thinks he won a million dollars in Nebraska. Payne brings the pain in almost every film (Horrible pun, I’m so sorry) and he didn’t break that mold when making About Schmidt.

The supporting cast was great as well as most of the comedy came from them. Kathy Bates plays a free spirit with horrible marriages she doesn’t mind talking about and Dermot Mulroney plays a lovable but completely annoying and lame brained man who is to marry Schmidt’s daughter. The film has a bunch of those little awkward moments that make you squirm and writhe with unease but it never breaches into unsettling. It’s like little moments of watching Steve Carell on the Office.

Overall a very good film that should be remembered as one of Jack Nicholson’s best roles in a lifetime of amazing roles.

4/5

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