About Schmidt review

:. Director: Alexander Payne
:. Starring: Jack Nicholson, Hope Davis
:. Running Time: 2:04
:. Year: 2002
:. Country: USA


Watching films this time of year is a challenge. Instead of being bombarded with promises of summer mega-entertainment, all the ads hype the Oscar worthy films, actors and directors. And so is the case with About Schmidt, nominated for a slew of awards before anyone gets to know him.

In a nutshell Jack Nicholson is Warren Schmidt, a recent retiree and widower who takes a road trip in his new Winnebago, both for a little self-discovery and to attend his semi-estranged daughter's wedding to a mullet-headed dimwit. He has also sponsored Tanzanian foster child, Ndugu, to whom he writes inappropriate letters regarding his true feelings as well as his takes on reality that tremble with denial.

Schmidt is a straw man, someone to be disregarded and his road trip must make him solid. In Easy Rider, Nicholson needed nothing more than a motorcycle. In The Straight Story, a tractor worked just fine to take the protagonist through Lynch's poetic vision of Middle America. But Payne's America is peppered with bad taste and vulgarity, of chain restaurants and odd museums. On his journey he tries to visit the house where he was born; it is now a tire store. And he does all of this in a gigantic Winnebago, the best of the best. He who almost chose a pine box to bury his wife spared no expense in the vehicle she never got to enjoy. As monster trucks bespeak the masculine need for affirmation, Schmidt's Winnebago now has to pick up tons of memories along the way that he hasn't hide time to gather during his life.

How Payne treats rites of passage and what makes them uniquely American is of interest here. His retirement dinner at what must be the fancy restaurant of Omaha is full of the usual boredom endured by the honoree as well as the guests that's broken with false tributes. His daughter's wedding reception is even worse and anyone that's ever been to a wedding and listened to everyone who gets hold of the microphone can relate to Schmidt. His speech, of basically insulting everyone without saying anything is missed by everyone except his daughter whose glare says it all. Retirements, deaths, weddings—there's an element of fierce boredom in all of them. And disgust. Watching Nicholson recoil with horror as he watches the future family of his daughter eat like a pack of wolves at Tony Roma's is a treat.

His letters to Ndugu, his Tanzanian foster child are a treat, for what he writes and what actually happens don't quite match up. It's through these letters that the audience learns his true feelings as well as his embellishments of reality. He unleashes his anger in letters inappropriate for a 6 year old child and the more poignant moments of the film are what he chooses to tell this unknown person of his life.

There are three scenes that don't really fit. In one scene that's far too sitcommish to be in a feature length film, Schmidt tries to navigate a waterbed. The other two involve Schmidt with other women. In one, he hits on the wife of a fellow RV traveler, in another Kathy Bates hits on him in the hot tub. While the former is too contrived and the latter is hilarious, we know it's only possible because Nicholson has been cast as Schmidt. He can't really be an ordinary Joe, now. He's our satanic shark and we love him for it. When his wife makes breakfast for him on the Winnebago as a special treat, our hero looks like he's ready to run out of this nightmare and straight to his courtside seats at the Staples center and then hop into bed with a honey.

Which leads us to the acting. Kathy Bates is wonderful as the horny mother of the groom while Hope Davis simmers just enough for Schmidt to know how much she disapproves. And as the groom who'se only managed to a garner a few honorable mentions, Dermot Mulroney is hilarious.

But this film is About Schmidt in the end and Nicholson is sure to get nominated for a number of awards for basically being smugly above it all and not disappearing into the film, as he did in The Pledge and The Crossing Guard.

  Anji Milanovic

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