A man upon retirement embarks on a journey to his estranged daughter’s wedding only to discover more about himself and life than he ever expected.
Year 1, Day 320
BEFORE: After a long string of twelve Star Trek films, today’s film should be a nice breakaway from that and get me into a wider range. About Schmidt is directed by Alexander Payne (who also directed The Descendants which I enjoyed) and stars Jack Nicholson (who has appeared in this marathon several times before).
AFTER: Jack Nicholson is the star of this film and plays his character with such precision that right from the first shot it’s as if we know his whole life. About Schmidt is also littered with other similarly great performances and characters but great acting alone does not make a film. While I enjoyed the performances, I found some of the situations and ways of relaying information to take me out of the experience.
Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) is a successful old man who feels lost and confused in his retirement, especially after suddenly losing his wife to a stroke. That first shot I mentioned earlier shows Schmidt sitting in a barren office, nothing on the walls and only boxes of garbage stacked up by the wall. He sits staring at the clock on the wall as it approaches 5:00 - quitting time. Just that simple look at him sitting in his chair watching the second hand inch forward explains so much about his character. Nicholson’s performance is riddled with subtlety and nuances. To say that you could understand his whole character from that one shot might be a bit hyperbolic, but the idea is sound. As you continue throughout the film and Schmidt begins to actually do things and explore this character further, the results are amplified. You really get a sense of his loneliness, anger, and frustration.
But this great performance cannot make up for other shortcomings. Most notably is the inclusion of his foster child Ndugu for whom he sponsors through a charity and corresponds with through written letters that accompany his checks. While his correspondence does provide some sort of catharsis for Schmidt, it feels too forced. By reading his letters through voice over it separates us from the action happening on screen. Most of the realizations Schmidt comes to through his letters/voice over we also see on screen. Having the same thing said to us feels unnecessary. Let us experience these events as they happen, not later on through Schmidt’s mind; we already see the events from his perspective (not literally).
About Schmidt was an interesting film with some great performances that touched upon several important areas of life (death, retirement, marriage). Payne does a great job at getting to the heart of what’s most important in our lives and how we react to certain events. However, the film is mired with poor structure/communication and is held back from its potential. Still worth a watch, but it wouldn’t be my first choice.
RATING: 3 out of 5