About Schmidt (15)
Warren Schmidt has led an orderly life – work, marriage, a daughter that he rarely sees and a collection of work colleagues that are the only friends he’s got.
So when he retires from the insurance company where he’s worked for years he finds it hard to shake the habits of a working lifetime. Like a Pavlov dog he wakes up at 7am, ready for a day’s work but with nowhere to go and nothing to do.
His wife wants him out from under her feet but warns him not to wander. His old firm has dumped him as surely as it’s dumped his files in an alley. Warren is lost. Then his wife dies suddenly, and Warren finds himself facing a life full of mystery – a brave and frightening new world as he heads towards old age.
Numb with grief, Warren jumps in his brand new recreational vehicle and heads across country to visit his daughter and her fiancé Randall – a career under-achiever from a dysfunctional family. He’s not really prepared for their reaction.
Then there is his growing relationship with Ndugu, a young child from a remote African country that he’s never met but is sponsoring to the tune of $22 a month. Gradually Ndugu becomes the focus of Warren’s life, and his fresh hopes for the future, though his introductory letter rapidly becomes a bitter, cathartic rant.
About Schmidt sees 66-year-old Jack Nicholson playing an old man for the first time in his long and distinguished career in what is a consideration on life, work, bitterness and regret. It is a comic, poignant and tremendously moving tale about the worthlessness of retirement and a search for meaning after a lifetime of unconscious mediocrity.
Based on the novel by Louis Begley, About Schmidt is a slow-moving and sometimes simple story of what happens to people when they’re thrown onto the scrapheap of life. In Warren’s case, he finds freedom. In the guise of Nicholson, it makes compelling, sometimes heartbreaking viewing as he wakes up to the reality of his existence.
Directed with aplomb by Alexander (Election) Payne, this is a soulful yet telling examination of the lives of ordinary people and the trials they endure. It shows how words are the worst weapons of all, and how perception and misconception can be a man’s worst faults.
After years playing over-the-top characters and being rewarded for it (see his work in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and As Good as it Gets) Nicholson has created a fully rounded character that is as comic as he is tragic. As one woman kindly puts it: “You’re so sad”.
Once again Nicholson proves he is possibly the greatest screen actor of his generation, easily trouncing the best work of his contemporaries and hitting a raw note of emotion in anyone who has a heart. I defy you not to be moved by the final scene – a mini masterpiece of reaction, and caught on camera with the naked eye of genius by Payne. It’s pure cinema, and Nicholson is electrifying.
Watch out for Nicholson’s name amidst the Oscar nominations next month; About Schmidt is really that good.
Star rating: *****