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Blast from the Past Movie Review – “About Schmidt” (2002)

October 9, 2011

With Alexander Payne’s upcoming fifth directing gig approaching for a Christmas release, “The Descendants”, I thought I’d look back at one his notable films, the dry-dramedy Jack Nicolson starrer, “About Schmidt”. Next to “Election”, this is my favorite of Payne’s work. I’ve yet to see “Citizen Ruth”, but it’s on my list, “Sideways” was good, but not great in my opinion. This films approach is the coming of retiring age and how a mans perspective on life differs from the people around him once a cataclysm embarks on his own life. As I stated the humor is dry, but it works to the advantage of the main title character. This is a great thanks to the writing teaming of Payne & Jim Taylor.

Warren Schmidt (Nicolson) has led a cautious, yet predictable life working at Woodmen Insurance in Omaha, Nebraska. Now he’s faced with retirement, the next chapter in any 66-year-old man’s life they do not want to face. Warren has come under a sudden realization that he was never really a happy man. His boring old wife Helen (June Squibb), was timid at best, but always seemed to belittle Warren through the years. She even admitted aloud that her father never though much of Warren when they were first dating, Warren knows this. His estranged daughter, Jeannie (Hope Davis) is about to marry a waterbed salesman, Randall Hertzel (Dermot Mulroney), from Denver, who can be quite the doofus, according to Warren’s eye.  Schmidt embarks on an unpredictable RV journey to attend his daughter’s wedding in Denver. While on this cross-country venture, Warren begins to learn more about himself, the life he lead, and the life he hopes to save, his daughter from making a terrible choice by marrying Randal.

Quite the character study this movie gives us. Warren is a pathetic man who can’t seem to let go of his old job. He clings to his wife to take care of him; the thought of being alone scares the poor bastard. When his wife croaks that’s when things get interesting. When his daughter arrives for her mother’s funeral, she attacks her farther for picking the cheapest casket. All while that is going, Warren is curious if Jeannie is going to stay with him, to take care of him, just until he can get back on his feet. Pathetic, isn’t it? The parent, asking the child to take care of them.

Warren’s road trip is an eye-opener on, he meets a few interesting people, sees interesting places, and when he finally arrives to his destination he’s shocked by the fact of what kind of people his daughter is marrying into. Sure, the Hertzel’s are a little more free-spirited, but they show more love and affection that Warren was never able to give or get. Which makes his rants against Randall sad, you can empathize with Warren because he’s a broken soul.

In the film, Warren pen pals a 6-year-old orphan from the slum of Africa, thanks to one of those ‘Feed the Children Infomercials’. Ndugu is the boy’s name, what I really like about this character is the fact that, Schmidt has all this angst and emotion bottled up. He couldn’t talk to his wife when she was alive, his daughter won’t listen, the irony of it all is that he feels comfortable confessing his life’s worries to a 6-year-old who’s only problem in life is to full his belly with food, so that he can live a happy life. There’s that poetic irony that director/co-writer Payne is known for.

Will Payne bring similar themes up in his new film, “The Descendants”? Who knows, the early reviews from the festival circuit are more than good, so it has me excited. All in all, if you want to see a good character story, this is one you shouldn’t miss out on. It’s also one of those roles that’d you never see Jack Nicolson ever really do, he’s…anti-Jack in this film. Plus, Kathy Bates is a riot in the supporting role as Randall’s mother.

GRADE: A

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