Movie review

About Schmidt
Jack Nicholson, Kathy Bates,
Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney

Director : Alexander Payne

About SchmidtWarren Schmidt is not finding life after retirement as easy as he expected. In fact, after his reluctant departure from the insurance firm to which he gave the best years of his life, and the sudden death of his wife, he finds that he actually has very little life left at all. And so he sets off on a soul searching, cross-state journey in his motor home, to stop his daughter from marrying a 'nincompoop' waterbed salesman, and to 'find himself' or what's left of him.
    About Schmidt is a simple, melancholy story, carefully and deliberately told through the eyes of one man who wakes up to find that his life is devoid of meaning and begins to look for an answer.

Nicholson steals the show, with a heart-rending, engaging and incredibly personal performance which makes up for the lack of any obvious plot by allowing us into the core of his emotional journey. The supporting cast are fantastic, and Kathy Bates' 'larger-than-life' appearance as the mother of the groom produces many side-splitting moments. But it's Schmidt's isolated and emotionally inept character who carries us through the film, allowing the audience close enough to root for him, without manipulating their affections through overt sentimentality.
    The film is subtle and stark from start to finish, and Alexander Payne's screenplay and direction allow his central character to shine, without ever shedding too much 'artificial' light on him. Payne uses a series of letters from Schmidt to a sponsored African child as a clever form of narration throughout the film, giving us a few valuable insights into his world. The narration is often touching and humorous but also serves to show how self-absorbed Schmidt has become in his older age, and how helpless he feels in the face of the circumstances which surround him. Life happens to Warren Schmidt, he doesn't live it, it just sort of happens around him.

This is not by any means an easy film to watch, and the dark comedy is often too close for comfort, hitting raw nerves and exposing social mishaps with alarming frequency. There are very few things which would be able to hold our attention for the duration, except Schmidt himself. And this is why Nicholson puts in a performance worthy of an Oscar. The title could easily have been About Jack and still been perfectly fitting.
    The pace is often painfully slow; dawdling and meandering with Schmidt as he comes to terms with his loss, his life and his purpose. The film requires a large emotional investment from the audience, with little initial guarantee of a return, but the end result is rewarding and quietly satisfying, as we see that life hides meaning in the most unusual places.

Soul searching, humorous, gut-wrenching and thought provoking. About Schmidt shows that real life is made up of its own small stories, and this is one of them. Beautifully told and wonderfully written. A rough cut diamond, and a sound investment of a few short hours.

:: Tom West

Go to top of page
Latest articles

Alone in the dark: Buffy The Vampire Slayer bows out in style with the Season Seven DVD Collection.

Johnny Knoxville plays him in the movie Grand Theft Parsons, but counterculture speaks to the man himself: Phil Kaufman interviewed.