About Schmidt
Starring:
Jack Nicholson, Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney, Kathy Bates, Howard Hesseman
Directed By:
Alexander Payne
Grade
A-

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.

- - Kinderfeld

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