Review: About Schmidt

by Jake Sproul

Rating: (out of )

Alexander Payne is one crafty filmmaker. In 1999, Payne created a masterpiece in his stunningly poignant, yet darkly funny Election. In 2002, Payne has scored yet again with About Schmidt. If I may dig into the cliche bag for a moment, About Schmidt is a triumphant movie that celebrates the life. About Schmidt is a moving picture, that blends richly comical, and touchingly dramatic moments seamlessly.

Warren Schmidt is a retired insurance worker, his job taken by a cocky, sleazy young guy. He does not have a bad life, not by anyone’s standards. In Warren’s head, his life is pretty much over. He does not have a bad life, not by anyone’s standards. Now that he is at home, though, he finds himself more and more irritated by his wife Helen, and he is enraged by the man that his only daughter Jeannie has decided to marry. He tells all this to a 6 year old, in Africa, named Ndugu. A child that Warren sponsors through one of those foundations, with the 3 minute long commercials about starving children in Africa and 3rd world nations.

On another mundane day, Warren sets out to the post-office. When he comes home, he finds Helen dead on the floor. This brings Jeannie and her fiancee, Roy, back home for the funeral. After a few weeks, Jeannie and Roy have to go back home to finish the final plans for the upcoming wedding. When Jeannie and Roy go back to Denver, Warren decides that he doesn’t want to be so far from Jeannie. So he hops in the huge RV that Helen insisted on buying, and heads off. However, Warren has an ulterior motive, to break up the wedding.

Like he proved in Election, Alexander Payne has a fantastic sense of humor, and he doesn’t need bathroom humor to do it. About Schmidt possesses the same great humor. At times, you couldn’t even here the joke because the audience was still laughing from the last joke. Only during one farce scene involving Kathy Bates, Jack Nicholson, and a hot tub flounders. Its the only moment in the film where the comedy feels forced.

About Schmidt’s moments of drama work equally, if not better, than its moments of comedy. Which, if you knew the level of comedy, is really saying something. Warren tries to accept a deceased wife’s discretion, a best friend, his daughter’s choice in husband, and ultimately, his life. And during a final, emotional scene, Warren discovers that his self discovery was not in vein, and he comes to realize that he has effected a life. These moments of deep emotional impact are handled touchingly, and most importantly realistically.

Jack Nicholson has become synonymous with good acting. Its a rare day when he delivers a poor performance. And like usual, Jack is amazing. He is already picked up a Golden Globe nomination, and is the front runner for the Oscar. Let me be one of the first to say that he deserves the accolades he is receiving. His comedy and drama mix well together, and he was cast perfectly. In a supporting role, Kathy Bates shines as the matriarch of the future in-laws. While not able to outshine Jack, Kathy Bates turns in another note worthy performance. Like Jack, Kathy may have a few more statuettes on the mantle piece for this film.

I must once again express my disappointment in the hopelessly ineffective and time-dated the Film Ratings (CARA) is. About Schmidt is an R film, for one frame of nudity, and a few swear words. Censorship is something that needs to be used sparingly, and CARA is going way too far. I have noticed that occasionally, 10 in 20 movies playing at the local multiplex are R rated. Sorry my rant, I just felt that that needed to be said.

About Schmidt is an effective motion picture, worthy of all the critical praise it has been receiving. It manages to be funny and deep, and not emotional in the saccharin/phony/cheap way, but in the good, effective way. Of all the good qualities that belong to About Schmidt, above and beyond, Jack Nicholson’s performance is what drives this motion picture. About Schmidt could just have easily been dull with a less talented leading man, but the notion of such a thing doesn’t even cross your mind when Jack’s in the driver’s seat.

© 2002 Jacob Sproul

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