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About Schmidt
2002 - R - 125 Mins.
Director: Alexander Payne
Producer: New Line Cinema
Written By: Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Kathy Bates, Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney, Howard Hesseman
Review by: David Trier
About Schmidt

Some movies have a message and some movies tell that message by having a story. But then some movies are driven by their characters, not their plot points, and even still some movies aren’t driven at all, but merely grab a slice out of someone’s life. This movie is in fact about this guy, Schmidt.

Easily replaced by a younger guy, Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) has finally made it to retirement. With nothing to fill his days and no spark left in his marriage, Schmidt soon finds himself looking for reason. He finds some comfort in sponsoring and writing to an African orphan through an organization he saw on tv. Unhappy that his daughter Jeannie (Hope Davis) is soon to marry a waterbed salesman (Dermot Mulroney), putting an end to the marriage may be the only purpose he has left when his wife Helen (June Squibb) suddenly passes away. Schmidt takes the Winnebago his wife made him get and journeys across the states to “save” his daughter. He learns a lot about people and himself along the way. But when he meets his future son-in-law’s messed up family, he is even more confident in his purpose. Will he make amends with his daughter or ruin it all?

Although his choice of films has occasionally been suspect, Jack rarely disappoints and here is no exception. We might see Sean Connery gallivanting around with 30-year-old love interests on screen (or Nicholson doing it in real life), but it’s a testament to Nicholson’s artistic integrity that he’s ready to finally play someone admittedly old. And he plays it well. We may not care much for Schmidt (maybe some of us do - like we care for a crazy uncle or something) but we certainly understand him. He’s cynical yet curious, ugly yet huggable, and completely lost without the help of a woman. Nicholson delivers all of this with a patient and sincere yet profoundly comical performance that‘s really a sight to see.

Hope Davis does an acceptable job but her character is pretty uninteresting. Dermot Mulroney, who couldn’t possibly have been considered good actor beforehand, delivers an entertaining performance as the loser fiancé we can’t help but like a little. Kathy Bates plays his mother with her usual grace and style, although a jacuzzi scene promptly reminded me I could have gone my whole life without ever seeing her naked. But good for her (I guess). She also has some terrific dialogue with Howard Hessman as her ex, and he is always fun to watch.

People are likely to take issue with the kind of story this is more than anything that happens in the story or the performances. It’s a little slow and nothing much really happens because there’s never very much conflict. This film is a character study and the character is this guy Schmidt. It’s as simple as that and not really the style of film that I tend to enjoy.

However, the voice-over narration of the story through Schmidt’s letters to an orphan who can’t possibly understand him, is a well-executed tool that allows for some humor and some insight. Some of his contact with characters along his journey only make the film longer, but others are quite appealing. The film has plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and a few that might make your eyes well up, so despite it having little impact on you after the moment you leave the theater, it’s still a film worth seeing.
Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

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