View Full Version : About Schmidt

12-17-2002, 02:14 PM
Director Alexander Payne follows "Citizen Ruth" and "Election" with "About Schmidt," the third film set in his hometown, Omaha, Nebraska.
Rounding out the trilogy, ( Payne says his next film will be shot in California wine country), "Schmidt' is his most mature film to date.
Jack Nicholson stars as Warren Schmidt, a retired insurance salesman who has retired from life long before receiving his gold watch. It's Nicholson's best acting ever and that's saying alot given his long illustrious career.
Schmidt's loneliness and alienation is emphasized by Payne's long, winding cinematography and film score. He uses composer, Erik Satie, in a beautiful sequence showing the barrenness of the countryside along the Nebraska Interstate.
In a Q & A following the film at a benefit in Lincoln, Ne., Dec. 10, Payne likened Schmidt's character to that of Chauncey Gardner (Peter Sellers) in Hal Ashby's, "Being There."
Members of the audience also compared Nicholson's performance to that of early silent film comedians Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. ( A bit of trivia, Lloyd was a homegrown Nebraska boy.)
Schmidt tries to salvage his relationship with his estranged daughter after the death of his wife, by heading to her wedding in Denver in a Winnebago. Daughter "Jeannie", played wonderfully by Hope Davis, is about to marry a bumpkin waterbed salesman (Dermot Mulroney)with a mullet haircut. I had to look up Mulroney's mug on a movie website to remember what he really looked like- so good is his transformation.
And you know how they always say a daughter marries her father- Nicholson's comb-over should have it's own screen credit.
Schmidt also tries to redeem himself by "adopting" a Tanzanian orphan named, "Ngudu." Payne uses Schmidt's letters to the orphan as a thread throughout the film.
Kathy Bates stars as Mulroney's ex- hippie mother. In a hysterical scene, Bates disrobes while coming on to Schmidt in a hot tub. I sure hope Bates gets an Academy Award for this. She's completely fearless.
I enjoyed Payne's attention to detail. For instance, he splatters bird poop on the Winnebago's windshield at the perfect comedic moment
Unlike Payne's other films, most of the humor in this one is burbling underneath the asphalt of the Midwestern landscape.
Along with loneliness and alienation, this film is about coming into old age and the redemption one can feel if they start living their life instead of just watching it go by.

12-18-2002, 01:40 AM
Sounds like a KILLER film.


Kathy Bates nude? again? I'm still traumitized from "At Play in the Fields of the Lord"!

12-18-2002, 09:41 AM
Heres my review from the NYFilm Fest screening a few months back:

About Schmidt (Alexander Payne, USA, New Line Cinema)
About Schmidt is the latest Jack Nicholson flick from director Alexander Payne (Election), based on the novel by Louis Begley. Nicholson plays Warren Schmidt, a man in his mid-60's retiring from atop the only company he's ever known, Woodmen of the World Insurance, to life in Omaha. Jolted by the doldrums of his impending golden-years, Warren is gripped by the need to affect positive change on something in his life. The sudden death of his wife and the prospect of his only daughter's marriage to a flaky, pyramid-scamming salesman push Warren to the brink. He sets out on a journey to digest his wife's passing, save his daughter from certain misery, and in doing, scrape out an ounce of self-respect from a lifetime of meaningless pursuits. As with Election, Payne stacks heavy odds against his male protagonist and sets him down in a thickly stocked pot of American ennui; Nicholson's dry delivery is perfectly suited to a character in search of a way out. Liked it alot; very funny. If there is any weakness, it's that Nicholson's performance is too good/too Nicholson and engulfs the rest of the film.

Ive got a funny little anecdote to go along with this one. I found a Woodmen of the World Insurance Co sign at a flea market in Manhattan. It was dated from the 60's and marked "Omaha, NE". Made me laugh and think of Schmidt.

Kathy Bates nude- hey she's got confidence. Probably a few women out there who wouldn't mind a little skinny dipping with Jack Nicholson.

Chris Knipp
12-22-2002, 11:55 PM
This is a movie that fits generally into the “Todd Solandz lite” category I identified with “Pumpkin” and Miguel Arteta’s movies, especially his recent “The Good Girl.” Compare “About Schmidt” with those two and you see how sour its worldview is. The latter is relatively filled to the brim with horribly detailed observations of Middle American stupidity and bad taste. Inhabitants of the Napa Valley, beware! Solandz lite is a style that gets extremely varied readings from different audiences. I saw an early matinee of “About Schmidt” in Berkeley with an older crowd dying to laugh--and they squeezed out only three good guffaws through the course of the whole thing. I conclude that if you’re near Warren Schmidt’s age, this movie isn’t half as much fun as young people tend to think. It's a cautionary tale---but how credible is the witness? Alexander Payne is peering in at a stage of life he doesn’t know firsthand; he has also downgraded the social details of his story from the Louis Begley novel in the direction of farce and cruel satire.

I’m surprised more people don’t see how bitter and dismissive Payne’s view of Schmidt and everybody in (or just below) Schmidt’s world really is. This has a very different tone from “Election” and it’s a grim one---studiously eschewing, by the way, the laughs and audience nudges Nicolson was willing to put in. No wonder the director has moved away from Nebraska now. He’s burning his bridges in this one. True, Kathy Bates and crew are good for some smiles but Jack Nicolson is kept in tight rein.

But how successfully? Nicolson's very history is an ironic commentary on the role---he cannot escape that fact. Is his performance so wonderful? Only if you give extra points to an actor for taking a part unsuited to his flamboyant talents. A dubious piece of casting but an excellent career move for Payne. He has gained the limelight and nudged Solandz lite closer to mainstream attention than the “Pumpkin” and “Good Girl” crew could possibly have done.

“About Schmidt” is an arresting movie, but its mean spiritedness is even more saddening than the hopeless vacuity of its hero’s life. The movie means to be tragicomedy, but there can be little comedy where there is so much restraint, and no tragedy where there is so little sympathy. I would not recommend this movie to anyone looking for a good time.

Nonetheless, a must-see for film buffs.

P.s. I learned about something new: the mullet. Dictionaries say it’s a fish but the Web is full of fan sites—or something—for the hairstyle. An example among many of Payne’s keen observation of social indicators.

12-23-2002, 11:27 AM
Sure, Payne (the writer / director) used this movie to take a lot of shots at the common folk of Middle America. But what struck me the most about the movie was Schmidt's complete inability to form relationships, emotionally, intellectually, or otherwise, with other people. In a way, he was like the Ed Crane character in the Coen Brother's film "The Man Who Wasn't There".

What's the cause of Schmidt's isolation from the world? Is it simply that years of working at a tedious and monotous job have sapped any bit of soul or spirit that he once had? Or, maybe he's just one of those people that never really had any passion or whatever in the first place, like Billy Bob Thorton's character in "Man Who wasn't There". It's an interesting question, in my opinion, and that point made it an interesting film to me.

At the end of the film, when he's crying, the person I was with in the theater thought that it was a happy moment, that he was happy to finally have connected with someone, to have made a difference. I thought, however, that he cried tears of frustration, at the fact that the only person he could positively affect was someone that he would never meet. Good ending to a good movie. Ambivilant ending reminded me of "The Graduate" in that way.

01-09-2003, 01:49 AM
My introduction to Payne was great. This guy knows how to tell a story with a camera.

Jack will win the oscar again in March. Egg will be all over those voters faces if this isn't the case. You can look at his face in any scene and actually see the gears turning. The man is supremely intelligent.

Kathy Bates should be picking out a gown that goes well with a gold statuette of a little bald man. She was the ultimate trailer-trash mom. She should have been Eminem's mom, not Kim Basinger! My retinas were scorched again by her nude visage...her complete abandon was a treat to watch.

Overall this film is near-perfect. It makes my top ten for the year easily.

Daron Paine
01-14-2003, 07:29 PM
...He does after all come from a Greek (Hellenic) family!

I'm happy that there still are inspiring young directors like this. Payne is in a league of his own. He has a great ability to focus in on a single point and really bring it to life. Telling a story rather than a fable. I liked Schmidt almost as much as Election.