Director: Alexander Payne
Writers: Alexander Payne (screenplay), Jim Taylor (screenplay), Louis Begley (novel About Schmidt)
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Kathy Bates, Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney, June Squibb, Howard Hesseman, Harry Groener, Connie Ray, Len Cariou
Rating: Nominated for 2 Oscars: Best Actor (Jack Nicholson), Best Supporting Actress (Kathy Bates). Won 2 Golden Globes: Best Actor – Drama (Jack Nicholson), Best Screenplay. Nominated for 3 Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress (Kathy Bates).
When Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) retires he finds himself at a loss. When he decides to take a road trip on the way to his estranged daughter’s wedding he discovers more about himself and his life than he ever expected.
About Schmidt signalled a turning point for writer/director Alexander Payne after his first big hit, Election (1999), a romantic comedy drama starring Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick. With About Schmidt Payne found his niche with funny yet dramatic portrayals of middle to older men, a theme he would later return to in Sideways (2004) and The Descendants (2011). As the title points to, the film is all about Schmidt and Jack Nicholson (Batman, 1989) fills the part and gives one of the best performances of his career. Perhaps Nicholson’s performance is so impressive because we here see a side of him he rarely shows; there is no wide grin, no sarcasm, no psychotic antics. Nicholson gives the character room to breathe and the result is a tender and poignant portrait of a elderly man coming to terms with the rest of his life and facing up to the kind of man he has been so far. When speaking of Alexander Payne, his later films are most often mentioned, but About Schmidt is where it really began for him and it is an underappreciated early masterpiece. Although a drama on the face of it, it has Payne’s trademark subtle humour throughout finding laughs in the most unlikely situations, although not laugh-out-loud funny there is much heart here and if you step into Schmidt’s grossly oversized Winnebago Adventurer motorhome and let him take you on a road trip you won’t soon forget. Highly recommended.
The shot of Schmidt dozing of in the bathtub while writing a letter to Ndugu is a reference to Jacques-Louis David’s famous painting “Death of Marat” (see below).
Picture Copyright: DBC Medier