"About Schmidt" is a quirky, offbeat comedy about a man and his journey to find meaning to his life. Its name is true; "About Schmidt" is about...well...a man named Schmidt.
Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) is your average Joe. Or, in this case, your average Warren. He lives a normal life. He has just retired at the age of sixty-seven, and he now stays at home with his wife, who Schmidt states he is growing tired of. He's tired of having to do everything his wife, Helen, tells him to do. He's tired of her cutting him off when he's talking. He's tired of the way she sits down. He's tired of the way she pulls out the keys to the car before they're even out the door. And he's tired of having to sit down when he goes to the bathroom.
In a letter to Ntugu (his new "adopted" sponsor child), Warren spills his beans about life. That same day he comes home from mailing a letter to Ntugu, to find his wife, dead on the floor. We learn later that she died from a blood clot in her brain.
Left on his own, Warren realizes how good his wife was, and how much he misses her. But then he finds out that twenty-five to thirty years ago she had an affair with an old friend of his, and in one of the most subtley funny moments in the film, dumps off her old belongings at a donation center.
Warren, still missing his wife but truly bitter at what she did, eventually decides to go visit his daughter in the south, and packs up the 35-foot-long Winnebago with everything he needs. His daughter, who is about to be married to a complete loser, has different ideas, and tells Warren once he is on the road that it would be best if they stick to the plan and he comes down two days before the wedding. Left with about a week before the wedding, Warren takes a road trip back down memory lane. He visits his old childhood home - which is now a tire store. "This is where the bedroom would've been," he tells a clerk, who looks on in awe.
After that, Warren one way or another ends up eating dinner with a couple from the RV park he's staying in. When the husband goes out to get more beer, the woman says that she sees a sad, sad man in Warren. Afraid and angry.
Once Warren arrives for the wedding, he realizes that his daughter is happy with the man she is about to marry, no matter how much of a loser he is. And in a scene that could have been played for laughs but wasn't (which is good in this case, making deep characters instead of flimsy ones), Warren makes a toast to his daughter and her new husband.
And then Warren goes home. It's the end of the movie already. Not much has happened, and Warren tells Ntugu that his life has no point. His life has no meaning. Why go on? But then he gets a letter, and in the sense of "It's a Wonderful Life," Warren sees the meaning in his life.
"About Schmidt" isn't for everyone. People that cannot tolerate slow-moving films should not see this. Those that cannot appreciate characters that are deep, but yet still funny, should not see this movie. If people want a Jack Nicholson movie played just for laughs, with your average characters, I recommend "Anger Management." But if you want a classic example of fine storytelling, see "About Schmidt."
The characters are funny, but not outrageous. They are not there to make us laugh. They are there to preach something, much like in "It's a Wonderful Life." But they do make us laugh, in the little quirks of life. Things we all do. The first forty minutes of this movie is an absolute hoot, and those forty minutes are probably funnier than any movie you'll see this year. But not outwardly funny; like I said, this isn't an Adam Sandler movie. This is a realistic movie with realistic characters doing real things that are funny. It's a self-parody for all the viewers. The little quirks all the different characters have will either a) remind you of someone you know, or b) remind you of yourself.
Jack Nicholson is an absolute stand-out in this movie. I can't see anyone else playing him quite as well as Nicholson. And I must admit that I've never been a real fan of Jack, either. But when he is on screen in this film, we see a sad, lonely, angry and afraid old man who is wondering through life, living each day, but not for any apparent reason.
Alexander Payne has crafted a wonderful life-parody/drama here. I didn't expect this much from "About Schmidt," but I sure did get more than I bargained for. And in this case, what I didn't bargain for was better than what I did.
4.5/5 stars -
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