Film: About Schmidt

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About Schmidt

Director: Alexander Payne
Distributor: New Line Home Entertainment

Warren Schmidt (Nicholson) is about to taste a not so sweet slice of life. When he retired, he and his wife Helen had big plans, but an unexpected twist changed everything. Now, all of Schmidt’s attention is focused his daughter’s upcoming wedding to a loser waterbed salesman. From meeting hippie parents to sponsoring a Tanzanian foster child, Schmidt embarks on a search for answers…and discovers that life is full of trick questions.


While confirming Jack Nicholson’s status as an American national treasure, About Schmidt is sure to provoke polarized reactions. Stoked by the success of Election, director Alexander Payne and cowriter Jim Taylor have altered Louis Begley’s novel to suit their comedic agenda, turning Nicholson’s titular character into a 66-year-old, newly retired Omaha insurance actuary, weary from decades of drudgery and passionless marriage. When his wife suddenly dies, he attempts to reclaim his life in a king-sized Winnebago, desperate to convince his daughter (Hope Davis) not to marry the Denver dimwit (Dermot Mulroney) whose mother (Kathy Bates) has her own baggage of peculiar peccadilloes. Nicholson perfectly (and often hilariously) nails the seething anger beneath his character’s façade of resignation, but Payne and Taylor convey cold-hearted contempt for these Midwestern malcontents. Think of this as Ikiru with bleaker humanity, until Schmidt finds meaning—and some small reward—in a quiet gesture of goodwill. Love it or hate it, About Schmidt is a movie you won’t soon forget. —Jeff Shannon

Barnes and Noble

The tepidity of the American Dream leads to a less-than-epic journey of the soul in About Schmidt, a curiously dry satire of middle-class values from director Alexander Payne (Election). Jack Nicholson stars as the eponymous hero, whose retirement from a meaningless white-collar job, followed quickly by his wife’s death, prompts him to hit the road in a Winnebago, in an ersatz odyssey of self-discovery. The film’s great strength is its tone, which hinges on Schmidt’s role as a classic unreliable narrator. The letters he pens to a third-world orphan he’s decided to sponsor supply deliciously ironic voice-over narration. The fact is, Schmidt’s road trip is ultimately as uninspiring as his life, and he remains unable to conjure up any real emotion after decades of quiet despair and delusions of contentment. It’s a subtle and effective approach that plays against the strip-mall satire, resulting in a strangely haunting atmosphere throughout. Strong supporting performances anchor the film, including Hope Davis as Schmidt’s mousy daughter, Dermot Mulroney as her mullet-sporting fiancé, and Kathy Bates as his uninhibited mother. But About Schmidt is Nicholson’s show, and it’s a relief to see the actor finally shed his romantic leading man persona to play an ordinary old man. The result is a striking film that is neither cruelly satirical nor overtly sentimental, one that is more interested in asking the big questions than supplying the answers. Gregory Baird

Related Works

Album:About Schmidt: The Score

About Schmidt: The Score

Alexander Payne, Rolfe Kent

Book:About Schmidt: A Novel

About Schmidt: A Novel

Louis Begley

After years of careful management, the life of Albert Schmidt—proud, traditional gentleman and lawyer of the old school—lies about him in shambles. The wife he adored is recently dead. The clients he has served superbly and devotedly throughout his long career are turning to his firm’s aggressive young comers as Schmidt stumbles into early retirement. And relations with his only child are going from bad to worse.

Charlotte, once the flower of all her father’s hopes, and the sole beneficiary of the best of everything he could provide, has matured into a banal yuppie, only too willing to apply her peerless education to work in public relations. And now a desperate quarrel divides them: Charlotte announces her intention to marry a man Schmidt cannot approve of, for reasons he can scarcely admit—even to himself. As the beleaguered father gropes his way out of the corners he is forever backing himself into, he finds…[more]

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