About Schmidt is a touching, human story about a man who comes to the realisation that his life is nothing more than a failure.
Said man is Warren R. Schmidt (Jack Nicholson), a 60 something year old insurance salesman. Facing an unknown future after retiring from his job, Warren realises that life has passed him by due to the commitment given to his work; to his wife of 42 years, Helen (June Squibb); and to their daughter Jeannie (Hope Davis) who is due to marry furniture salesman Randall (Dermot Mulroney).
When Helen unexpectedly dies Warren struggles to adjust to a life that has been wasted on ritual mediocrity, and the requirements of being a husband and father. Deciding to go on a cross country trip in his newly purchased Winnebago, he unexpectedly finds himself in a journey of self discovery, which concludes in a mission to try and stop his daughter getting married and making the same mistakes he did.
Writer/director Alexander Payne successfully blends drama and comedy in what is overall a very compelling watch. About Schmidt features an admirable, powerfully emotive lead performance by Jack Nicholson, and great support by Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney and a scene stealing Kathy Bates who plays Mulroney’s domineering, sexually charged mother.
Much like fellow scene stealer Al Pacino, many of Nicholson’s finest moments during his career comes from his ability to play it low key (as seen in The Pledge). That being said you can’t help but grin when he lets himself go, as evident in a scene where Warren lets out all of his frustrations in a letter addressed to his ‘Childcare’ orphan.
Nicholson also demonstrates just what a fine comedic actor he is, with his dear in headlights look towards Kathy Bates as she undresses herself whilst they are sharing a Jacuzzi, an unforgettably funny moment.
The movie is full of the small town, mid-west mannerisms which reminds at times of Fargo, and is chock a block full of the dull, mundane every day routine that consumes the average suburbanite, thus we are treated to what is at times a dull, mundane movie experience as we see Warren go through the motions (and slowly at that).
But for many that is exactly what life is; a slow burn full of empty trinkets, insipid employment and the token nuclear family. This is the life that Warren has led, and Payne catches it in all its banal glory.