Jack Nicholson, Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney, Kathy
Bates, Howard Hesseman
Jack Nicholson is Warren Schmidt, an insurance actuary who
enters retirement, only to find it boring and without purpose.
Once taken away from the rigorous schedule and purpose that
his job afforded him, Schmidt finds himself taking a longer
look at the world he lives in, and ultimately, he tries to
find a purpose to make the day-to-day mechanism of life worth
the effort. Not after too long, his wife passes, leaving a
huge void in his personal world, one which he hopes to fill
by connecting more with his soon-to-be wed daughter. The problem
with this is that he can't stand the man his daughter, Jeannie
(Davis), is about to marry, but since his daughter feels bitter
towards the reserved nature her father has always shown, they
can only clash.
A good portion of the story is told through the narration
of Schmidt's letters to Ndugu, a six-year-old orphan who Schmidt
has "adopted" from a company advertising through television
ads. These letters offer up an insight into the main character
that he hides from the rest of the world, acting as a catharsis.
Some of the more humorous, albeit a dark humor, moments are
derived from these letters. Ultimately, though, the letters
do prove to be much more than an underlying story element,
as they end up providing a quality endpoint to the film.
As Schmidt, Nicholson delivers one of his best performances.
He doesn't fall into his own self-created stereotype of an
aging "cool cat" or unhinged gentleman. Schmidt is a fully
fleshed-out older man who is a prime example of a real life
persona, one of which you might know on a personal level.
The character's flaws really draw out the human aspect that
the movie needs to tell the story in an unfolding manner.
Both Davis and Bates deliver fine performances opposite Nicholson,
especially the father-daughter conflict that Davis manages
to initiate on a few occasions. Mulroney and Hessemen do a
fine job as well, standing out as glaring problems in Schmidt's
soon-to-be extended family.
The greatest strength of the film is that it refuses to wax
nostalgic or create a pleasant sense of reality. About Schmidt
is a cold film that shows a real character dealing with real
issues. While the basic concept of the film is about transition
and moving through one's personal crossroads, it's never delivered
in such a way as to feel corny or ham-fisted. Except for some
sluggish pacing early and a few sequences that never really
go anywhere except to lengthen the film, the overall story
and performances delivered are well worth the time.
Both the music and photography do a fine job of capturing
a feel, be it reality with a strong flavor. I enjoyed how
the music didn't fall into traditional senses, but felt nostalgic
and a part of the character.
All in all, if you're up to see a film about a real person
dealing with real life, About Schmidt is something
you should check out. If you want something more escapist,
I'd suggest skipping this one as it may be too real for some.
If you're a fan of Nicholson, you really should check out
one of the best performances of his career.