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Review: "About Schmidt"

January 15th, 2003

Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) is a man in his 60s, in an emotionally empty marriage with his wife, Helen (June Squibb), ignored by his only daughter, Jeannie (Hope Davis), and retiring unsuccessfully from a job that gave him no fulfillment his entire life. His dreams of becoming one of the biggest insurance investors in the country and appearing on the cover of Fortune magazine was bashed into a brief one-paragraph message in the local Bugle of his hometown in North Dakota. He is not allowed to spend his money on material possessions he may find useful, but squabbles it, instead, on a titanic RV Helen wanted for his retirement but Warren didn't. Worst of all, Jeannie is about to marry a no-good nincompoop (Dermot Mulroney) who comes from a family of bohemian/hippie-types and who talk about their sexual escapades freely while sucking down a batch of greasy ribs in one breath.

About Schmidt is a poignant, sad, and hilarious look into the life of a man whose regret on everything past and is one of the most memorable films I've seen all year. Directed by Alexander Payne (Election), About Schmidt deals with a subject matter too many of us are familiar with, guilt and a sense that life has dealt you its cards and the hand has come up snake eyes. The film really roars into life when Schmidt, after his wife's passing, ditches all his cares and drives the RV to his daughter to try to talk her out of making a mistake similar to the one he made sum 43 years earlier.

Kathy Bates plays Mulroney's mother, the sexually aggressive divorcee who makes the moves on Schmidt in a hot tub scene too funny and at the same time, shocking, to create into a sentence. The movie also dares to not feel the need to tack on one of those silly, misplaced happy endings. What fuels the film is Nicholson who gives a performance of such flawless perfection we remember why the guy is one of the most beloved and acclaimed artists of our time.

Matthew Dalton