Warren Schmidt's life hasn't often been front page material, but it was once.
When the actuary was promoted to Assistant Vice President of his firm, he got
his picture on the front of Woodmen of the World, his company's in-house
newspaper. With a great sad-sack performance, Jack Nicholson makes Schmidt a
sweet, empathetic character. In the opening scene we observe a stoic Schmidt as
he stares motionless, watching a second hand tick off the remaining moments of
his working career. Like many men, his work defines him and drives him and,
without it, he feels lost and useless.
Knowledge is sometimes a dangerous thing, and it certainly is in Schmidt's case.
He calculates that he has a seventy-three percent chance of dying within nine
years. Nine years of a pointless existence isn't something he relishes.
ABOUT SCHMIDT is their first sweetly tender comedy by director Alexander Payne
and screenwriters Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, the creative team who brought
us CITIZEN RUTH and ELECTION. It may be a bit slow at times, but it never fails
to capture your heart. It will probably capture another Oscar nomination for
Nicholson, who is best in the role when he is completely silent.
In search of some meaning in his life, Schmidt "adopts" a six-year-old Tanzanian
boy through Childrescue. In addition to sending money to the boy, he also
writes him long letters about his life. Through these missives, Schmidt
narrates the movie.
Schmidt's out-of-state daughter, Jeannie (Hope Davis), is about to marry Randall
Hertzel (Dermot Mulroney). Not the most promising of future son-in-laws,
Randall is an obnoxious, waterbed salesman. With a ponytail and a bad goatee,
Randall is a rapidly balding buffoon. His gregarious mother, Roberta (Kathy
Bates), brags that she breastfed him until almost five and that the results
show. She is proud of her son, although it isn't clear why.
Part of the story is a road movie as Schmidt heads out in his Winnebago in order
to get to his daughter's wedding as quickly as he can. She tells him to cool it
and not arrive early. This gives him plenty of time to kill by visiting his
childhood haunts and roadside samples of Americana.
If Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor had been given the opportunity to make THE
STRAIGHT STORY, ABOUT SCHMIDT is probably the movie they would have come up
with. ABOUT SCHMIDT isn't as sharply written as ELECTION, but it is a charming
and funny little film.
ABOUT SCHMIDT runs 2:04. It is rated R for "some language and brief nudity" and
would be acceptable for teenagers.
Copyright © 2002 Steve Rhodes