About Schmidt

Less is sometimes more, and that adage is especially relevant in About Schmidt, the new movie from Alexander Payne (Election, Citizen Ruth). Payne has a talent for picking out small foibles in his characters, making extremely ordinary people seem interesting. Here, Jack Nicholson's performance is wonderful as a man completely lost and alone in the world. Nicholson's (The Pledge, As Good As It Gets) Warren Schmidt is a man completely alone in the world. He is recently retired and his longtime wife suddenly died shortly thereafter. Schmidt takes the physical and metaphorical road trip, where he rediscovers who he is and what the meaning of life as it pertains to him is. Just as good is Dermot Mulroney (Lovely & Amazing, Trixie) who makes looking like an idiot so easy. He is unrecognizable in his mullet and goatee, and disappears completely into his role.

Payne's talents sometimes work and sometimes don't. Here, he adapted Louis Begley's novel with Jim Taylor (Jurassic Park III, Election) and uses his powers of observation to spotlight a lot of the strangeness of ordinary people. To cope with his loss, Schmidt decides he needs to assert his presence in the life of his daughter Jeannie (Hope Davis, Hearts in Atlantis, Final). Jeannie was close to her mother, but not to Schmidt. Now, she is getting married to Randall Hertzell (Mulroney), a man that Schmidt feels is far beneath Jeannie. She doesn't want him meddling in the wedding preparations, so Schmidt decides to drive his enormous Winnebago around the country. When he arrives, he meets Hertzell's dysfunctional family, including his mother Roberta (Kathy Bates, Love Liza, American Outlaws), a free-spirit years past her prime. Her openness and spontaneity is the polar opposite of Schmidt's repressed and withdrawn personality.

His frustration and anger comes through in his letters to a starving African child he is sponsoring. Payne uses these letters and voice-overs to show what is going on in Schmidt's head as he deals with his loneliness and slowly begins to get better. Things come to a head when he meets the Hertzells, whom he takes an instant disliking to. When one thinks about it, not much happens in About Schmidt, and that is part of its beauty. It is a movie about a man, and what is happening to him internally. Payne takes a lot of care to ensure that whoever is watching can see and understand what is going on. As an added bonus, there is a lot of quirky and bizarre comedy that comes along with it. Payne coaxed good performances out of all of his actors, including the aforementioned Nicholson and Mulroney, and a highly amusing Bates and always good Davis. At the beginning of the film, the Schmidt character is pretty empty. The viewer doesn't really 'know' who he is, and he sure has no clue. By the end, Payne makes it obvious who Schmidt is and what he is all about.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
2 hours, 4 minutes, Rated R for some language and brief nudity.

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