About Schmidt (2002), Runtime - 125 Mins, Cert 15.

Director - Alexander Payne.

Writers - Alexander Payne & Louis Begley.

Starring - Jack Nicholson, Kathy Bates, Hope Davis & Dermot Mulroney.


Premise - Recently retired, Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) begins to realise that his life hasn't really amounted to a whole lot. So, he hits the road in his RV for a couple of weeks before heading to his daughters wedding. All the while writing letters to the African child that he has recently sponsored.

About Schmidt is a strange film to write about. It feels like the kind of film that you will appreciate more after a few more viewings. It's a very intimate film, which focuses almost all of its screen time on one character. The title of the film being particularly relevant since the film is literally about Schmidt. The film has a deliberate pace, but by the same token never feels boring. Our guide through the movie is Warren Schmidt, played wonderfully by Jack Nicholson.

This movie is quite a bold move or Nicholson. Bucking the trend of playing young characters and hooking up with equally young actresses, Nicholson plays a character his own age that also has a wife of advanced years. With this film and the recent ‘The Pledge’ Nicholson is proving that getting on in years doesn’t mean the quality of your output has to drop.

Nicholson’s Warren is a lost man. After he retires and his wife dies suddenly he is left with a huge empty feeling. What in his life that he has done has made any impact on the world? What has his life meant? Nicholson underplays the role beautifully, even during the characters many bursts of rage he keeps it reigned in. As Warren travels around we hear his thoughts through a voiceover reading the letters he writes to his new child sponsor.

His thoughts range wildly and we learn that Warren is a sad man. His wife irritated him, he doesn’t like his prospective son-in-law and the guy who replaced him at work is an asshole. Warren travels around looking for answers, but ultimately finds none. The Warren we leave as the film ends is the same Warren we meet at the films start, with one notable exception. In his late years he has finally made a difference, the African child that he sponsors. The final frame is a heartbreaking one and an image that will live with you for a long time after the credits have rolled.

Even though the film is intensely focused on its main character it does has very colourful and memorable supporting cast. Kathy Bates is a joy as the free spirited mother of Warren’s son-in-law. She is a very upfront person (in more ways than one!) who says what she means. Also good is an unrecognisable Dermot Mulroney as Randall, the son-in-law. Hope Davis rounds of the support as Warren’s daughter and performs well. Keep an eye out for a gloriously, over enthusiastic RV couple that Warren meets on his travels, very funny stuff there.

As depressing as the subject matter may sound (the ultimate futility of life), the film ends on high a point (as I said) and there is much laughter to be had. Warrens many travels normally end up in some form of comedic situation and his new family is as odd ball a bunch as you have ever seen. Its Nicholson himself that raises the most laughs though. His reactions to the events that unravel around him are excellent. A raised eyebrow here, a quick look around there, the odd quizzical look, his mannerisms and facial expressions are a constant source of entertainment.

Writer/Director Alexander Payne previously made the satirical joy that was ‘Election’ and About Schmidt has a similar feel to it. This isn’t a teen comedy, this is an adult comedy. Deliberate, biting and insightful with a masterful performance from Nicholson, it tells a story that many of us will have to face ourselves at some point in our lives. The point where we get to a certain distance and ask ourselves, was it worth it? If you like your comedy low key and adult then About Schmidt should be right up your alley. Aside from a protracted final third that feels about 20 minutes too long About Schmidt is a well written, thoughtful and funny movie that I recommend highly.



See About Schmidt if you enjoyed - The Pledge, American Beauty.

Poster Quote - This film is the Schmidt..