Movie Review

About Schmidt

MPAA Rating: R for some language and brief nudity

Reviewed by: Halyna Barannik
CONTRIBUTOR

Very Offensive
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adult
Genre:
Drama
Length:
2 hr. 4 min.
Jack Nicholson in “About Schmidt”

Starring: Jack Nicholson, Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney, Kathy Bates, Howard Hesseman | Directed by: Alexander Payne | Produced by: Harry Gittes, Michael Besman | Written by: Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor | Distributor: New Line Cinema

“About Schmidt” is a pleasingly original approach to the topic of retirement. Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) retires and then has to face the rest of his life. The movie depicts a fairly short span of time, maybe a month or less, focusing on the actual retirement/party, the new life without the job as an executive with an insurance company, the sudden death of his spouse, and the marriage of his daughter and only child.

The loneliness that Warren feels is palpable. In a surprising twist to the story line, Warren signs up to be a foster parent to a child in Africa, and writes letters to the little boy, in which he completely inappropriately expresses all his innermost thoughts and feelings and new experiences. The letters contribute to the film’s narrative. They are touching and funny.

After his wife’s sudden death, Warren travels in a motor home to attend his daughter’s wedding. His daughter Joanie (Hope Davis) is marrying Randall (Dermot Mulroney), a waterbed salesman. Randall’s mother (Kathy Bates) hosts Warren to dinner and a hot tub. Intertwined with all the activity that pertains to the retirement, the wedding, the meeting with Randall’s family, is the drama of Warren Schmidt trying to cope with all his many losses and changes. Nicholson deftly portrays a man struggling to do right by everyone. Despite the unfortunate fact that his daughter is living with her fiance, and Randall’s mother is quite raunchy and lewd in word and manner, “About Schmidt” is not very offensive for the mature Christian audience. Despite his moment of weakness when he makes a sexual advance to a married woman, Warren Schmidt is a basically decent man, at least the way Nicholson plays him. The screenplay is a sensitive one which offsets the worldly society in which the movie is set.

This film is a thought-provoking drama that captures the shock of retirement. It has some very funny moments. A brief nude scene with Kathy Bates and some profanity justify the R rating.

Year of Release—2002


Viewer CommentsSend your comments
DISCUSSION:
  1. When life is lived without significant love, it is not difficult to understand the emptiness of the heart. But if we know this, then why do so many of us choose to live lives consumed with other goals and pseudo-purposes? Why do we not all change the course of our lives to reach our true destinations?
  2. When we miss the opportunity to be loving parents when our children are young and then attempt to reconnect with them later in life, why is that connection so difficult? Surely Jeannie wanted a father as much as Schmidt wanted to be a father, especially now with her mother’s death, but why did she reject him so quickly? What was the meaning of the look she had after her father gave his toast? What do you think she expected him to do?
  3. When Schmidt did the simplest of Christian acts, that of adopting a starving child for $22 per month, his soul was enlivened. What do you believe would happen to him if he were to experience first-hand the loving community of church life and reached out to the many children needing the love of a father figure?
  4. If psychologists like Erikson identify the purpose of life as being one of increasing love and care for others, why do so many of our cultural signals tell us to sacrifice relationships and family to “get ahead” financially and professionally? What have we failed to bring into our culture to make loving relationships a cultural norm?
—Denny and Hal, CinemaInFocus.com
Neutral—I found this movie depressing. The characters are repeatedly disappointed in their pursuits of worldly desires, everything from careers, idle conversations, re-uniting family ties, even sexual pursuits. The director is very revealing, too revealing perhaps, in everyday failures people seem to experience. And he touches on so many topics from diets, infidelity, retirement, dealing with death, poorly matched marriages, etc. The ending provided some meaning in the main character’s life when he helps a Christian ministry. He finally experiences a feeling of positively impacting someone’s life when working through an outreach to sponsor a boy in a third world country. A note sent to him confirms he’s making a difference. Makes me think of the bible passage that Christians are the “salt and light” of the world.
My Ratings: [Average / 3]
—Bill Muscato, age 34
Negative—I liked the story. It’s funny for people in their 50s. It makes you think! The bad thing about it is the fact that the Name of Jesus Christ was taken in vain again and again. It could have been a “classy” film, but dragging the Name of our Lord in the mud totally destroyed it.
My Ratings: [Extremely Offensive / 3]
—J. Lemieux, age 50
Positive—This film was fantastic. I’ve often heard it described as a coming-of-age film for the middle aged, and I would have to agree with that. In the course of about a month, Warren Schmidt (Nicholson) endures the three most significant life changes that a person of that age group has to deal with: retirement, loss of a spouse, and the marrying off of a child. As any one can tell you, when enough life altering changes happen in a small period of time, it can make you reevaluate your life, as Schmidt does here. As he does so, he finds that his life has been, to him, a failure. He did not accomplish any goals, nor even make any difference in anybody’s life. At age 66, he has found that he has dug himself into a rut of self satisfied comfort so deep, that he’s not totally sure that he can ever climb out. But, he will certainly try. This is easily one of Nicholson’s best performances (his second best, in my opinion; Ironweed being his first). Schmidt goes through the entire spectrum of emotions throughout the film, ranging from bored to desperate to hopeful to regretful, and Nicholson (who has far more acting skill than people give him credit for) pulls each off perfectly. It doesn’t take long for us to forget that we are not watching Nicholson, but just a sad, discontented old man. The film does have some cursing in it, as well as some very unexpected nudity. Apart from that, the film is a stunning example that, if one really tries, it’s never too late to make a difference.
My Ratings: [Average / 4]
—Tyler Smith, age 21
Positive—I’m 51 and thought that ABOUT SCHMIDT was an excellent movie. It’s about a self-absorbed man who discovers by the end of the movie that life isn’t about him. That’s a pretty big revelation. This is the kind of movie a person will appreciate as they approach retirement. Unless you’ve lived it, or seen it lived by other people, you won’t be able to appreciate it. It realistically captures many facets associated with the transition from middle-age to retiree. That there is a certain amount of sadness is to be expected; what is unexpected is that Schmidt, long stuck in a rut and routine of his own choosing, begins to bloom and blossom as circumstances beyond his control cause him to make new choices. It left me feeling hopeful that a man like Schmidt might actually pick up a Bible and start reading it one day. A nude scene, yes; sexually provocative, no; inappropriate language, yes; but much less than one would think considering who it stars.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 5]
—Victoria Schera, age 51
…the movie that dares to say it’s all a lie, that the truisms that movies and mass culture live by are reassuring myths but lead nowhere. Here, old age is a time not of insight but of confusion. Love doesn’t grow but grows stale, evolving into a vague contempt. Having a child is no comfort, and even taking off down the road—the great American standby—offers nothing in the way of self-discovery. It’s all empty…
—Mick LaSalle, Chronicle Movie Critic