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USA 2002
Directed by
Alexander Payne
124 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4.5 stars

About Schmidt

Synopsis: Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) is retiring from his job as an insurance actuary in Omaha, Nebraska. Soon after his wife suddenly dies, Schmidt decides to take the brand new Winnebago he and his wife had bought for their cross-country adventure and visit his only daughter who is about to marry a bed salesman in Denver, Colorado.

About Schmidt is a remarkable film, at least by American standards, because there’s no sensational special effects, breathtaking stunts, intriguing plot twists or emotional pyrotechnics. Quite the reverse, it’s a note-perfect essay in ordinariness. It wasn’t what I was expecting, not that I know what I was expecting. Perhaps because one’s so accustomed to Nicholson’s track record of histrionically visceral performances it’s strange to see him portray a dutifully-emasculated suburban retiree. As the Rod Stewart number in the background during the pre-nuptial dinner for his daughter’s new family has it, he wears it well. Of course, swooped over hair and grey cardigans aside, he’s still Jack and that lends a charisma to a character who in real life probably wouldn’t sustain our attention. Nicholson probably will get the Oscar for this, as the Academy loves easily identifiable characterisation, though I thought his performance as the wracked ex-cop in The Pledge (2001) was far more memorable.

But good as Nicholson is, both for his against-the-grain self-containment and his entertainment value, for me what is especially commendable about this film is its faithfulness to the world it depicts. David Lynch’s The Straight Story (2000) which also deals with an old, well very old in its case, codger making an across-State journey looks positively cinematic and sensationalist in comparison. About Schmidt is shot not just in family-album style, but with a strongly blue-grey palette appropriate to Schmidt’s world (it grows more colourful when he finally arrives at his daughter’s New Age mother-in-law’s house (another notch on the belt for Kathy Bates here). Costume and set-design are flawless and the characterisations are spot-on with terrific performances from the support cast. And no doubt at the core of all this is Louis Begley’s novel from which this was adapted.

About Schmidt is a feel-good movie, like 1997's As Good As it Gets about a character who finds redemption, but it’s mercifully low-key, wonderfully crafted and continuously enjoyable as long as you're not looking for sensational special effects, breathtaking stunts, intriguing plot twists or emotional pyrotechnics.




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