Wednesday, January 4, 2012
About Schmidt (2002)
Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) is retiring from his actuary position at an Omaha,Nebraska (Payne's hometown) insurance company. After retiring though, he finds it hard to adjust to his new life and begins to feel he's been useless to the people that surround him. In addition, he's grown a feeling of alienation to his wife of over 40 years. The only thing that he has going for him is a Tanzanian boy named Ndugu, who is Warren's foster child and communicates with him through a series of letters he writes that are full of rambling rants on his past and present life. However the sudden death of his wife leads to him having an epiphany that he hasn't made a difference in any one's life. Warren decides to go on a road trip in his Winnebago, where he first travels to landmarks from his past and then embarks to Denver,Colorado to stop his estranged daughter (Hope Davis) from marrying Randall (Dermot Mulroney), a water bed salesman whom he resents.
Jack Nicholson delivers one of the finest performances of his career as Warren Schmidt. It's sometimes a rarity to see the man in such a reserved, laid back role, but the background of his career as one of the most illustrious actors in cinema history translates beautifully to it. Nicholson has to navigate a substantial emotional range, but his facial expressions and calm line delivery ignite brisk realism into the character. The final scene alone seals up how great of an actor Nicholson is when it comes to him having to react from poignant events on film.
Alongside the talented Nicholson, Kathy Bates delivers a bright, ballsy performance as Randall's open-minded, sardonic mother. She displays sweet charisma with Nicholson, and they nail down their scenes together with a surprising amount of compassion and wit. Even though her character is used more for a comedy effect than the relatable human drama expressed throughout the film, Bates embraces this aspect with her no-nonsense brand of humor that had me laughing many times.
Alexander Payne does a phenomenal job directing this film as he lends it his signature satirical style, in addition to his fine balance of relatable human drama and clever comedy. He gives the film a constant sense of realism, especially stemming from his choice to shoot at places that almost anyone can recognize and end up using real employees of those locations instead of actors to portray the given part. In addition, Payne and his writing partner Jim Taylor create transitions between clever comedy and heartfelt drama at a pitch-perfect level, in addition to introducing characters that at first seem unlikeable, but have such deep backgrounds in their personalities that allow you to relate to them.
Overall, "About Schmidt" not only stands as one of the best films from 2002, but also as what in my opinion is the most underrated film in director Alexander Payne's short but iconic filmography. If you're the kind of person that digs movies that are not just clever in their comedy, but also contain drama that is very human and relatable to everyday life, you should definitely give this overlooked independent gem a look.
Final Grade: A