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About Schmidt (2002)
Rated R

Starring: Jack Nicholson, Hope Davis, and Kathy Bates

Rating:
****
out of
*****

If you've ever wondered what kind of a mark you're going to leave on this world after you're gone, you're one step ahead of Warren R. Schmidt (Jack Nicholson). He's just retired from his job as an insurance actuary and faces an uncertain future.

He lives with his wife of 42 years, Helen (June Squibb), but still wonders "who is this old woman who lives with me?" He hasn't taken much interest in anything at all except his job and now that's gone. And then, his wife is gone too. Warren finds her dead in the kitchen and is launched on a journey that, for most people in his position, should be one of self-discovery.

For Warren Schmidt, there is no self to discover. Unless he's speaking to his "adopted" Tanzanian son, Ndugu. Through his letters to the boy, whom he's adopted after seeing one of those commercials on late-night TV, he vents his anger about his daughter's impending wedding, the man who replaced him at his job, and his life in general.

Classifying this movie as a comedy or a drama sells it short. It's not really one or the other or even a combination of the two. Parts of it are funny, but not in a knee-slapping or laugh-out-loud way. Other parts are dramatic, but not overly so. It's more of an observation on life. Life is sometimes funny and sometimes sad, but never extremely one or the other when you look at it as a whole and that's a good way to describe About Schmidt.

The part of Warren Schmidt isn't the type you'd envision Jack Nicholson playing. Schmidt's definitely not an over-the-top personality. I'm assuming Nicholson's playing against his usual type is why he got so much critical acclaim for his performance. It's good, but it's not Academy Award-deserving in my opinion. (Nicholson was nominated for an Academy Award for this film. He lost to Adrien Brody for The Pianist.) Kathy Bates, however, should have won for her performance as Roberta, the free-spirited, soon-to-be mother-in-law.

Alexander Payne, who directed Sideways and Election, does allow the movie to run a bit on the long side. Several of the detours Schmidt takes on his journey don't really add up to anything when all is said and done. However, the movie's ending is powerful without being contrived or overly explanatory.

Overall, About Schmidt is a solid, if slightly disappointing, movie that I can't recommended as a "must see" film.

Trivia: The Woodmen Life Assurance Co. is an actual firm. Jack Nicholson filmed his scenes at the company's offices and was given a plaque making him an honorary Woodmen member. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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