About Schmidt Movie Review

See Jack brood. See Jack rebelliously piss standing up (no, no frontal nudity). See Jack cry. Notice the use of the name "Jack" and not Schmidt because, no matter how much Jack Nicholson is supposed to be restrained from his normally boisterous persona, the amount of tightly shot footage in About Schmidt dedicated specifically to closely framing Jack's mug never lets you forget exactly who you are looking at. There should be plenty of available excerpt material for Oscar this year. It certainly doesn't help derail the notion of this being a vanity piece that none of the supporting characters get a chance to shine.

Not that Jack can't be remarkably and convincingly low-key. His roles in both of Sean Penn's directorial projects, The Crossing Guard and The Pledge, are some of the best and most understated work he's ever done. And having enjoyed Citizen Ruth and Election, it's surprising to find that writer/director Alexander Payne's latest attempt at satire falls short of impressing when it stars someone that is capable of delivering. Maybe a comparison of the type of respect Penn must demand versus a relative newcomer to Hollywood is in order.

So Warren Schmidt (Nicholson) is a recent retiree whose doting wife of 42 years suddenly passes away, and his daughter Jeannie (Hope Davis) is about to marry someone we're obviously supposed to consider inferior (Dermot Mulroney) for spouting silly self-help maxims and inclusion in a pyramid scam. To feel as if he's making some kind of positive difference, Schmidt begins sponsoring an impoverished child all those television ads are always selling. He starts writing letters to the needy child which become a therapeutic channel to expound upon the events in his life. But to desperately convince himself of his own worth, he paints a picture for this stranger of the outcome he wished for rather than responsibly accept that he isn't a different person.

To begin with, About Schmidt is lazy storytelling for its reliance on a voice-over track to explain the internal functioning of Schmidt as he fumbles around in his Winnebago. While it's appreciated that he doesn't run the gamut of childlike tantrums with the many unexpected changes forced on his life, it's annoying to continually stare at an emoting face and be so explicitly told how he's thinking or feeling. It also cheapens any possible sentimental growth in Schmidt to hear about it through self-perpetuating, slightly delusional, heavy-handed dialogue instead of simply seeing him act different in his environment.

However, About Schmidt is not without some merit. It does take the opportunity to dive into some of the darker, self-defeating routines people explore when they have too much time on their hands. It's humorously pathetic that a commercial we're all used to ignoring not only suckers Schmidt into sending precious money but also initiates an important lifestyle introspection. The setup and first realization of Schmidt's divergent opinions from what is shown in his daily actions is well-paced and provokes laughter. Unfortunately, after venturing down these rare paths About Schmidt falls back in line with regurgitated product of yesteryear, much akin to that other "sensitive Nicholson" film that caught Oscar's eye, As Good As It Gets.

The About Schmidt DVD features a number of thoughtfully composed deleted scenes, prefaced by explanatory title cards, that fans of the film will enjoy immensely. There are also five curious short films about the Woodmen Building (where Schmidt originally works), commissioned by Payne for an unknown purpose.

Reviewed at the 2002 New York Film Festival.

Let's hear it for me.


About Schmidt Rating

" Grim "

Rating: R, 2002


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