By Leroy Douresseaux
June 3, 2007 - 09:19
About Schmidt (2002)
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Kathy Bates, Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney, June Squibb, and Howard Hesseman
DIRECTOR: Alexander Payne
WRITERS: Jim Taylor and Payne (from the novel by Louis Begley)
PRODUCERS: Michael Besman and Harry Gittes
GENRES: Drama, Comedy
RATING: MPAA - R for some language and brief nudity
Before they won an Oscar for the meandering road film/midlife crisis tale, Sideways, the team of director/co-writer Alexander Payne and co-writer Jim Taylor fashioned the meandering road movie/geriatric life crisis, About Schmidt. In the film, Warren R. Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) has just retired from his job as an insurance actuary. He is dealing with the fact that he thinks that his life has been a waste. Warren is also preoccupied by the things about his wife, Helen (June Squibb), that have always bothered him; in retirement, those things are really starting to work on his nerves. After Helen dies suddenly, Warren heads to Denver where his daughter, Jeannie (Hope Davis), is nearing her wedding to a waterbed salesman, Randall Hertzel (Dermot Mulroney), whom Warren doesn't like. Warren hopes to dissuade Jeannie from marrying Randall, but Warren also has to deal with Randall's eccentric family, including his mother, the lusty Roberta (Kathy Bates). But will this trip give meaning to Warren's life?
In spite of its Oscar-nominated pedigree, About Schmidt is mostly an average film. Jack Nicholson gives a fine performance as Warren Schmidt, but you feel sorry for the character more than you root for him. That's not necessarily bad, but considering that this film's tone is more pathetic than poignant, it's difficult to not find this entire scenario and the characters a little annoying. Kathy Bates gives a nice performance, trying to make her Roberta Hertzel more than just a one-note oddity. James Glennon's photography certainly captures the essence of a soul adrift that is the core of the lead character. However, no Payne/Taylor film is without its moments that help an average film be a little more interesting. The better elements in Sideways made it a good film, overcoming stretches of dryness; About Schmidt gets a bump, but not as much as Sideways. The film's opening scene, in which Warren watches the clock tick away the last minutes of his career, is art itself, and the closing of the film brings some heart and heat to this cold and dry affair.
2003 Academy Awards: 2 nominations: "Best Actor in a Leading Role" (Jack Nicholson) and "Best Actress in a Supporting Role" (Kathy Bates)