About Schmidt is a character study where the development in the titular character occurs mostly off screen.A neatly repressed Jack Nicholson plays Warren Schmidt, set adrift by retirement and the unexpected death of his wife. In search of a purpose to life, he travels across Nebraska in an enormous caravan to prevent his daughter (Hope Davis) marrying a waterbed salesman (Dermot Mulroney). Buried beneath a thin veneer of conservative courtesy, Schmidt’s honest feelings are only revealed through voiceover, or in letters to a Tanzanian foster child he recently sponsored on a whim.
Director and co-writer Alexander Payne proved himself a sharp satirist with Election. Here he casts a withering eye over middle and mid-West America, but many of his incidental characters emerge surprisingly unscathed, like Kathy Bates’ hilariously liberated mother-in-law. We’re seeing them through the eyes of a nonplussed Schmidt but we’re as likely to be nonplussed by him as by them.Schmidt gradually becomes painfully aware of, and frustrated by, his inability to connect with people - to matter. So the final scene’s reminder that everyone is important to at least someone else is as moving as it is surprising, suggesting that Payne and his movie are not as cynical as they may at first appear.