About Schmidt

on December 13, 2002 by Mark Keizer
Tossing out the sharp satire of previous films "Citizen Ruth" and "Election," director Alexander Payne delivers "About Schmidt," a middle-of-the-road comedy that's occasionally as bland as the film's Nebraska setting. The picture is saved by a hilarious final hour and the rare opportunity to see Jack Nicholson underplay a role not directed by Sean Penn. Although "Schmidt," which is based on the novel by Louis Begley, does not build on the promise of Payne's earlier work, it is funny enough with sufficient star power to carry it home.

   Nicholson plays 66-year old Warren Schmidt, who within days retires from his job, loses his wife of 42 years to a blood clot, then discovers she cheated on him. Set adrift, he grabs onto the only thread of normalcy he's got left--his soon-to-be-married daughter Jeannie (Hope Davis). Jeannie, who resents how Warren took his wife for granted, is about to marry Randall (Dermot Mulroney), a well-meaning but dense waterbed salesman. To stop the marriage, Warren jumps into his Winnebago and goes on an interstate odyssey.

   The first hour is surprisingly slack while the middle-America settings and subtle observations come dangerously close to "Fargo" territory. However, the second hour builds up considerable comic steam. Nicholson, who is in practically every scene, beautifully underplays the part of a man forced examine his exceedingly normal existence. To his detriment, once the foundations of family and job are removed, his life becomes meaningless. The film never fully justifies Jeannie's hatred for Warren, but their relationship is bitingly typical, since many families skate on unconditional love with only the occasional tragedy forcing deeper feelings to be revealed. Although certainly able to carry the film himself, Nicholson doesn't have to: Kathy Bates is very funny as an aging flower child with designs on Schmidt. And Mulroney is absolutely hilarious as Schmidt's future son-in-law, with his ridiculous moustache and Jeff Spicoli-grin. Starring Jack Nicholson, Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney and Kathy Bates. Directed by Alexander Payne. Written by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor. Produced by Harry Gittes and Michael Besman. A New Line release. Rated R for some language and brief nudity. Running time: 125 min

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