About Schmidt Review
By Joe Lozito
Is it fair to love Jack Nicholson's performance in "About Schmidt", Alexander Payne's moving tribute to not aging gracefully, largely because it's so unexpected? At this point in his career, Mr. Nicholson is afforded both the luxury and the curse of being able to fill a role solely with personality - an ability which elicits wildly mixed results (see "Wolf" vs. "A Few Good Men"). Mr. Nicholson is a throw back to the days of Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, and many other actors and actresses who were called on more to be stars and to be actors. There are not many other current examples of this tread - though Al Pacino and Robert Deniro spring immediately to mind - mostly because studios tend to think actors outlive their bankability when reach a certain age. Thankfully, Mr. Nicholson is here to prove them all wrong.
In Mr. Payne's follow-up to the wonderful "Election", Mr. Nicholson strips off the bluster, confidence and, yes, even the eyebrows that have been his trademark for three decades, to create Warren Schmidt. As an insurance actuary, it is Schmidt's job to assess the worth of a person's life. The beautifully ironic twist is that, after the tragic death of his wife, Schmidt finds himself feeling…well…worthless. He misdirects his depression onto his only daughter (Hope Davis) who is about to marry a mulletted dullard (a fascinatingly good Dermot Mulroney) Schmidt feels is far beneath her station. Schmidt's journey to stop the wedding in the family Winnebago brings him no closer to his daughter or his epiphany about the meaning of his life. In a brilliant use of voice-over, Schmidt catalogues his travels via letters to Ndugu, a boy he adopted on television.
With the exception of Ms. Davis' cipher of a daughter, the screenplay, which Mr. Payne loosely adapted from the novel by Louis Begley, is full of colorful characters - not the least of which being Kathy Bates' free-spirited mother-in-law to be. Like "Election", "Schmidt" derives its humor from situations which ring achingly true. It is a tribute to the intelligence and respect with which Mr. Payne made this film that the final, beautiful moments offer no solutions. As Schmidt may or may not learn, it's not the answer, it's the journey.