About Schmidt (2002)


Ebert:1/2 Rolling Stone: TV Guide:

Warning, minor plot points revealed!

About Schmidt is considered by it's makers to be a comedy.  And it is.  It has some really funny moments.  But I would be more apt to call this film a painfully depressing tragedy.  This is not to say that it was a bad film.  On the contrary, it is a great film and Jack Nicholson performs what will no doubt be considered one of his greatest performances ever.  I recommend that everybody see this film (even if you don't like Nicholson.)  About Schmidt forces you to take measure of your own life and then deal with the repercussions of that introspection.  

Warren Schmidt is an actuary for the Woodman of the World Insurance Co. in Omaha, Neb.  On the day of his retirement he realizes that that is all he is.  He has a wife who has performed her role but is of little value to him.  He has no real relationship with his daughter who is about to marry an obvious loser whom Schmidt despises.  He also has a giant mobile home that his wife Helen wanted for their retirement years.  Days after his retirement Helen dies.  Schmidt now has nobody.  While watching TV one night he sees an ad for one of those feed the starving children of the world charities.  He adopts a little 6-year-old Tanzanian boy named Ndugu.  When he is encouraged by the foundation to write to the boy, Schmidt begins to confess the ruin of his life to the only person he has left to share it with, Ndugu. 

All the actors do a great job in the movie.  Dermot Mulroney (Rachel's current love interest on Friends) is hysterical as dim-witted, pyramid scheme obsessed, waterbed salesman, fiancÚ Randall Hertzel.  Hope Davis is funny and sad as Schmidt's daughter and Randall's bride to be.  One thing I sensed from her character is that she knew that she was marrying into a family of idiots and eccentrics but she believed that she had no other options available to her.  She was obviously the most intelligent character of the film and resented her father's attempts to point out her the mistake that she was making voluntarily.  Kathy Bates does a great job too but oddball characters are sort of common for her as of late.

Jack Nicholson, however, does something special.  He takes a character like Schmidt, plays 180 degrees against the Nicholson persona that we have come to expect, and gives him a quiet sad depth.  This role could have been played by any number of actors, but I think it was daring and far more rewarding to use Jack Nicholson in the part.  We know that's Jack up on the screen but we are awed by the transformation that has resulted in Schmidt.

I would say that Jack deserves another Oscar, but this is why I don't think he should get one.  First and foremost, the most amazing thing about this role is the fact that he is playing against the, now formulaic, Jack Nicholson type.  It's rewarding to see, but the achievement is diminished by the fact that it is, in essence, the very definition of acting.  It was kind of like seeing Pee Wee Herman doing his semi-dramatic turn in the cocaine drama Blow.  I don't think the Oscar should be a reward for playing against expectations.  Although he will be nominated, I think the race for best actor will fall between previous winner Daniel Day-Lewis for Gangs of New York and Adrien Brody in The Pianist.

Go see or rent About Schmidt.  If the film does not resonate with you then you can assume that your life is on the right track.  If, however,  you leave the theatre counting the similarities to your existence, then perhaps it's time to make some changes.