Jack Nicholson as Warren Schmidt
Hope Davis as Jeannie
Howard Hesseman as Larry
Kathy Bates as Roberta Hertzel
Dermot Mulroney as Randall Hertzel
Len Cariou as Ray
June Squibb as Helen Schmidt
Watch out Oscars, Jack is back in one of the strongest performances of the year!
Warren Schmidt (Nicholson) is retiring from a lifetime of service as an actuary for Woodmen of the World Insurance Company, and he feels utterly adrift. His only daughter Jeannie (Davis) is also about to marry a boob, while his wife Helen (Squibb) dies suddenly after 42 years of marriage.
With no job, no wife, and no family, Warren is desperate to find something meaningful in his thoroughly unimpressive life. He sets out on journey of self-discovery, exploring his roots across Nebraska in the 35-foot motor home in which he had planned to drive around the country with his late wife. His ultimate destination is Denver, where he hopes to bridge the gulf between himself and his somewhat estranged daughter by arriving early to help with her wedding preparations. Unfortunately, he hates the groom-to-be Randall (Mulroney), a profoundly mediocre, underachieving waterbed salesman. Warren grows swiftly convinced that his new purpose in life is to stop his daughter’s marriage.
During this darkly comic and painful odyssey, Warren details his adventures and shares his observations with an unexpected new friend and confessor — Ndugu Umbo, a six-year-old Tanzanian orphan whom he sponsors for $22 a month through an organization that advertises on TV. From these long letters filled with a lifetime of things unsaid, Warren begins — perhaps for the first time — to glimpse himself and the life he has lived.
Director Alexander Payne and his writing partner Jim Taylor are back after having penned such satires as “Citizen Ruth” and “Election.” “About Schmidt” is not necessarily a funny film, though there are funny parts, its more a sad story about Schmidt trying to make a difference. It’s an impressive tale in which you journey with him on his self-discovery and feel what he’s going through. The script is very strong, calling for quite a few emotional and intimate scenes which the cast pulls-off flawlessly.
This is one of Jack Nicholson’s greatest performances to date, on par with his roles in films such as “As Good As It Gets” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. Schmidt goes through a variety of emotions, from having to deal with his wife’s death to his daughter’s non-interest in him helping with the wedding, and his road trip bumps to wanting to really tell how he feels when the time comes. He shows his feelings most clearly in the film through the letters he writes to Ndugu, the real Schmidt can come out in those.
The supporting cast also adds a lot to the story. Hope Davis, who plays Schmidt’s daughter, does a nice job in showing she’d rather live her own life without interference from her dad, while Dermot Mulroney, who plays the fiance, is believable as the hick and dimwitted Randall. Quite a change from his “My Best Friend’s Wedding” role but it works. Kathy Bates stars as the hold-nothing-back mom of Randall, who is likely to raise some eyebrows, not just Nicholson’s – as in the nude hot tub scene (yes, you might want to close your eyes) – but also for her role come awards season. It’s also a lot of fun watching her bicker with Howard Hesseman, her ex-husband.
When the laughs do come, it’s more than just with words. Nicholson’s physical humor is a nice touch as he wrestles with a water bed, has to take drugs to cure his neck, and his appearance in several scenes, among other things. Bates has some funny lines, as does Mulroney.
The one thing that really carries “About Schmidt,” the thing that will keep you thinking after having left the theater, is the film’s message. Why do we do what we do? Why are we in the same job our entire life, and when we retire did we really make a difference? What about our family, did we treat our spouse and children the right way? I know, it sounds like depressing stuff, but perhaps the film’s message will get us all thinking about how we make a difference.