[MOVIE REVIEW]Jack shines by ditching his usual bag of tricksSomeone once told me that if you’ve spent five years at a job, then you’re stuck there forever. If that’s the case, then Warren Schmidt is a man stuck, in every sense of the word, after 34 years at the Woodmen Insurance Co.
“About Schmidt,” directed by Alexander Payne and starring Jack Nicholson, is a quietly introspective movie about a man, recently retired and widowed, struggling against hopelessness in a search for self.
Schmidt, the quintessential everyman, has spent most of his life at Woodmen, eventually becoming a vice president. While his career has given him a comfortable existence, it has also sucked the life out of him.
On a visit to his Omaha, Nebraska office shortly after retiring, Schmidt discovers that no one has any questions for him, and all his files are in the trash.
With his life’s work relegated to the dumpster, Schmidt realizes how badly he has neglected his roles as husband and father.
When his wife, Helen, passes away, he initially views her death as part of life’s progression. In time, however, he learns how indispensable she was to his day-to-day existence, and realizes that he has dedicated his life to the wrong things.
Schmidt decides he can’t lose his daughter Jeannie (Hope Davis), who’s engaged to a man he considers a “nincompoop.” He makes his way to Denver, where he hopes to talk Jeannie out of marrying Randall Hertzel (Dermot Mulroney).
Mr. Payne’s bleak portrayal of Nebraska perfectly conveys the quiet desperation that Schmidt feels. Combined with Nicholson’s masterfully subdued performance as Schmidt, “About Schmidt” seems like almost a documentary about a man lost in his own life.
Nicholson’s performance is especially noteworthy because absent from it is his trademark (and cliched) mannerisms and coolness.
Kathy Bates, playing Randall’s twice-divorced mother, also gives an exceptional performance. Her character acts as a fiery and energetic foil to Nicholson’s Schmidt.
By holding shots longer than most film directors, Mr. Payne creates a feeling of reflection. While it may slow down the pacing of the movie, it’s necessary to get a sense of Schmidt’s innermost thoughts.
While introspective for Hollywood, “About Schmidt” is still too easily digested. Upon retiring, Schmidt “adopts” a young Tanzanian boy, and his letters to the boy serve as a narrative tool to show what he is thinking. But by using these letters to wrap up Schmidt’s feelings into a series of monologues, the movie leaves nothing for viewers to contemplate on their own.
“About Schmidt” is supposed to be a film of self-discovery, but its effectiveness is handicapped by explicitly stating what the writing and directing so cleverly imply.
by Steven Lee
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