Directed by Alexander Payne
Screenplay by Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor
Based on the novel About Schmidt by Louis Begley
Starring Jack Nicholson, Kathy Bates, Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney
How are you? I just saw a very good movie called "About Schmidt." Sit back and let me tell you about it because it will probably take a while before it gets to your neighborhood. Especially since the rebels have destroyed most of the roads.
The movie starts with Warren Schmidt on the day of his retirement from a mid-level executive position at an insurance company in Omaha, Nebraska. That's in the center of the United States. He and his wife Helen have bought a motor home to spend their golden years roaming the countryside; it was really her idea. He also has one daughter, Jeannie, who is engaged and lives with her fiancé, Randall, in Denver, Colorado.
Sadly, N!chaka, Warren is not a happy man and hasn't been happy for quite a while, if ever. He doesn't know who his wife is anymore and he doesn't like the way she treats him, for example, by making him sit on the toilet whenever he pees. I'm sorry but I don't know the African slang for urination. He hates his future son-in-law, who as a waterbed salesman doesn't seem to have much of a future to take care of Jeannie. Warren is a quiet, passive man who only lets his true emotions show in his letters to Ndugu Umbo, a six-year-old Tanzanian orphan boy whom he sponsors for $22 a month. These letters, which give us insight into Warren, are some of the funniest moments in the film.
Now that his employer no longer needs him, he discovers that his family no longer needs him either. Before he and his wife can start on their road trip, she dies of natural causes. This sets Warren into a bit of an emotional tailspin. When he comes out of it, he realizes the mission he has to undertake to give his life meaning and purpose. He has to stop his daughter from marrying Randall.
Warren drives the motor home to Denver, the home of Randall's mother, Roberta, a free-spirited divorcee who adorns her walls with many nudes. Bad words fly out of her mouth at a frantic pace, so please don't copy the things she says if you ever get a chance to see this movie. She makes Warren uncomfortable whenever they are in the same room, but he hides his feelings. After dinner with the whole family, Warren confronts Jeannie alone, begging her not to marry Randall. She refuses his request and lets him know that "right now" is not the time to start taking an interest in her life. With one sentence we get insight into their relationship. That's good writing.
At the wedding, Warren is given the microphone, a device to make your voice louder, to offer a toast. For the sake of his daughter, he swallows his feelings and welcomes everyone into the family. He leaves Denver feeling like he is a failure. When he arrives home, he discovers he isn't a complete failure and that he's both needed and appreciated. He was just looking in the wrong places.
About the cast...Jack creates a great non-Jack performance, playing a subdued, passive man. I can't remember seeing him play a part like this before because he's usually an extrovert. It was strange seeing a woman of his own age as his wife. He's been chasing and playing against younger women for so long in and out of movies that when he appears on screen with his wife for the first time, she looks like she's his mother. Kathy Bates does a wonderful turn as Roberta. She is foul-mouthed and sassy. And is a very brave woman to do a nude scene in this superficial time. She might not make Playboy's Sex at the Movies feature, but plenty of guys who enjoy the full-figured gal, like self-professed chubby chaser Mil Peliculas, will be watching that hot tub scene over and over. N!chaka, if you lived in this country, you wouldn't get to see a naked woman until you were much older or until your family got cable. Americans are funny about sexuality, but we'll save that for another letter. Dermot Mulroney is very funny as Randall, the man with the plan. His mullet and handlebar moustache are almost worth the price of admission alone. He is a dumb guy, but they always think they are smart and Dermot captures that trait. Even the minor characters are filled with personality and believability. It was a welcome sight seeing Howard "Dr. Johnny Fever" Hesseman again. He puts in a fine performance as Randall's father and it was a relief knowing he won't be on Celebrity Fear Factor for a couple of years. That's a show where people eat unusual parts of animals. I'm sure you would do well on the program.
Alexander Payne, the co-writer and director, once again proves he's a major talent. This drama is filled with so much laughter that if you only listened to the audience you would think this was a comedy. The humor comes from the characters and the situations not jokes. His directing is simple and doesn't distract from the storytelling. It's refreshing to see a film that doesn't remind you of other films with its story or style. The quality of his work is similar to Woody Allen of the late 70's, but with a wider range of character types. Let's just hope he doesn't continue down that path by making unfunny, superficial comedies 20 years later. Payne is an artist to be watched.
Since the civil war is at a cease-fire for the time being, I hope this letter reaches you. Pay attention in school and I'll send more money once this website pays off.