A high school teacher's personal life becomes complicated as he works with students during the school elections, particularly with an obsessive overachiever determined to become student body president.
Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) has led a safe, predictable life working in the insurance industry in Omaha, Nebraska for many years, yet now faces retirement. At the same time, he is forced to take a hard look at his wife, his life, and his relationship with his estranged daughter. An often hilarious series of events follow as Schmidt embarks on an unpredictable RV journey to attend his daughter's wedding in Denver, Colorado.Written by
It is hard to recommend About Schmidt to anyone, without actually knowing that person. Not only does the story seem unconventionally uneventful to most of modern audiences, but it also moves with an unhurried patience that will let many viewers shift in their seats. It really depends on whether one can develop an interest to the film and its subject matter, which shows a retired man suddenly facing the void and meaninglessness of his existence.
About Schmidt moves slowly, but it moves with grace. The film's success is deeply in debt to Jack Nicholson, subordinating his personality to the character of Warren Schmidt. It must have been difficult for somebody like Nicholson to display the role's required lack of passion without letting Schmidt lose his human touch. Yet, his portrayal is excellent in its understatement, and his numerable supporting actors do not disappoint either. Fans of Nicholson will be assured in their belief, that their favourite is not only one of the best, but also one of the most versatile actors still working today.
Apart from the acting, director Alexander Payne's film is also well crafted. The somewhat saddened mood is only enhanced by documentary-like shots, constantly making us aware that what we witness is really an everyday-tragedy. The script shows intelligence, and although it contains many subtleties, most of them will not go unnoticed with attentive viewers. Even though About Schmidt is billed as a comedy, it really is a drama. Many of the humorous situations are more tragic than funny, and truly hilarious moments are rare occurrences.
I've often wondered whether the title of About Schmidt has been chosen with any clear intent. The German surname Schmidt equals Smith in English and is one of the most common. So about Schmidt could actually mean "About Everybody". Everybody can wake up one day and discover that everything he or she has devoted himself to, amounts to nothing. It's a frequent social phenomenon, that people suddenly wise up that their lives are almost over, without ever having fully lived them. Maybe that's how all the sea cruises and world tours of old pensioners can be accounted for. Like Schmidt, they are all making a desperate effort to catch up on a time that's long done and over with.
The film does not exactly give answers and, like in reality, does not end with any true revelations to escape all bleakness. But there is something it often likes to apply, namely the self explanatory power of irony. Like one time during the film, when Warren Schmidt decides to adopt a six-year old African foster child by mail. A cheque of twenty-two dollars, which he dutifully provides on a monthly basis, assures that little Ndugu can go to school, gets sheltered, fed and clothed. Yet, in one of his letters Warren writes to him: "What difference has my life made to anyone? None that I can think of. None...at all!"
Well, think again, Mr. Schmidt.
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