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About Schmidt

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: About Schmidt

Starring: Jack Nicholson, Hope Davis
Director: Alexander Payne
Rated: R
RunTime: 124 Minutes
Release Date: January 2003
Genres: Comedy, Drama

*Also starring: Kathy Bates, Howard Hesseman, Dermot Mulroney, Len Cariou, June Squibb

Review by Steve Rhodes
3½ stars out of 4

Warren Schmidt's life hasn't often been front page material, but it was once. When the actuary was promoted to Assistant Vice President of his firm, he got his picture on the front of Woodmen of the World, his company's in-house newspaper. With a great sad-sack performance, Jack Nicholson makes Schmidt a sweet, empathetic character. In the opening scene we observe a stoic Schmidt as he stares motionless, watching a second hand tick off the remaining moments of his working career. Like many men, his work defines him and drives him and, without it, he feels lost and useless.

Knowledge is sometimes a dangerous thing, and it certainly is in Schmidt's case. He calculates that he has a seventy-three percent chance of dying within nine years. Nine years of a pointless existence isn't something he relishes.

ABOUT SCHMIDT is their first sweetly tender comedy by director Alexander Payne and screenwriters Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, the creative team who brought us CITIZEN RUTH and ELECTION. It may be a bit slow at times, but it never fails to capture your heart. It will probably capture another Oscar nomination for Nicholson, who is best in the role when he is completely silent.

In search of some meaning in his life, Schmidt "adopts" a six-year-old Tanzanian boy through Childrescue. In addition to sending money to the boy, he also writes him long letters about his life. Through these missives, Schmidt narrates the movie.

Schmidt's out-of-state daughter, Jeannie (Hope Davis), is about to marry Randall Hertzel (Dermot Mulroney). Not the most promising of future son-in-laws, Randall is an obnoxious, waterbed salesman. With a ponytail and a bad goatee, Randall is a rapidly balding buffoon. His gregarious mother, Roberta (Kathy Bates), brags that she breastfed him until almost five and that the results show. She is proud of her son, although it isn't clear why.

Part of the story is a road movie as Schmidt heads out in his Winnebago in order to get to his daughter's wedding as quickly as he can. She tells him to cool it and not arrive early. This gives him plenty of time to kill by visiting his childhood haunts and roadside samples of Americana.

If Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor had been given the opportunity to make THE STRAIGHT STORY, ABOUT SCHMIDT is probably the movie they would have come up with. ABOUT SCHMIDT isn't as sharply written as ELECTION, but it is a charming and funny little film.

ABOUT SCHMIDT runs 2:04. It is rated R for "some language and brief nudity" and would be acceptable for teenagers.

Copyright 2002 Steve Rhodes

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