Eye For Film >> Movies >> About Schmidt (2002) Film Review
Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray
Without Jack, would Warren have risen from his bed? Nicholson's portrayal of a recently retired 66-year-old insurance executive from Omaha, Nebraska, makes his Oscar-winning performance in As Good As It Gets look artificial.
Alexander Payne's first film since Election is extraordinary for other reasons, too. Although categorised as a comedy, About Schmidt is about wasted lives. These people are dull, sad or whingesomely vulgar. You laugh at them, rather than with them, and feel guilty doing so.
Usually, in movies that satirise God-fearing, sexually repressed, flag-waving heartland dwellers of Middle America, the script team tends to introduce a gallery of loveable eccentrics and pompous fools to feed the audience's hunger for mockery.
Payne is uncompromising. The title tells you nothing and the humour appears so dark you need a flashlight to catch the drift. Feelgood clichés are noticeable by their absence, as Warren Schmidt looks at his wife of 40 years (June Squibb) and thinks, "Who is this old woman who lives in my house?" It's an observation, rather than a rallying cry. He's not going to hurl her collection of china figurines across the room. He's too well trained for that. He screams inside, instead.
When things change suddenly and unexpectedly, he has a moment to break free and so takes the Winniebago motor home to Denver in a vain attempt to stop his daughter (Hope Davis) marrying a waterbed salesman (Dermot Mulroney). As with every aspect of his walked-over life, success eludes him and his future son-in-law's twice divorced mother (Kathy Bates) seizes her opportunity to get intimate with this lonely man in the hot tub.
Payne touched on farce in Election. Here, he and co-writer Jim Taylor have no need to exaggerate. The situations are beyond embarrassment, in that public/private place where real life mirrors the pain of memory. Warren turns the Middle American dream into a nightmare. "The most you can hope for is to make a difference," he muses, knowing it won't happen to him.
It is worth queuing in the rain on a windy Wednesday afternoon to watch acting of this quality. Nicholson abuses his vanity and turns himself into someone Jack the Lad would be ashamed to know. It is a performance of acute observation and razor sharp timing.Reviewed on: 22 Jan 2003