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About Schmidt

Reviewed By wintermute
Posted 01/08/03 07:21:46

"The cowards never left home, the weak died along the way."
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

I was surrounded by the middle-aged as I hunkered down in my second row seat at the Sunday matinee showing of About Schmidt, a true testament to the lure of afternoon movies and Oscar-buzz. It had worked on me too - not the Oscar-buzz but the promise of sightly cheaper ticket prices and hot older women. Cougar Attack!

Just kidding. Actually, my roommate, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of cinema and cinema-related anecdotes, had been interested in this film for a few weeks, and I too was curious to see an older, saggy Jack Nicholson, preferably a Nicholson who didn't turn into a werewolf at any point in the story.

Well, I wasn't disappointed in that department, because except for a brief exhibition of an older saggy Kathy Bates, the film is replete with weird Uncle Jack and his wrinkly wrinkly face. However, the story has less to do with his character's senior citizendom than it does about waiting. Specifically, a man who spends all of his time in anticipation of what happens next, only to arrive at a point in his life where nothing happens next.

The film opens with Warren Schmidt waiting patiently at the desk of his cleared out office, watching the clock tick off the final seconds of his career without a hint of exasperation or tedium. The retirement party that follows is endured with the same semi-detached, polite attention, as Warren's co-workers laud him while simultaneously demonstrating how the corporate world never pauses as a result of the departure of one of its members. From this point, it is clear that Schmidt has always been a spectator, never a participant in his uneventful life. That his wife has gradually assumed control over his daily routine and interactions with others is underlined by his behaviour after her death (whoops, spoiler). He becomes a mindless automaton, a robot who's brain has never been able to do more than mimic the motions of everyday life. As his household falls apart around him, Warren returns to that which he knows best - waiting. He sits in front of the tv for hours, he eagerly watches his daughter prepare him a sandwich upon her return for her mother's funeral; and when one day in his recliner he realizes that for him, the next event on his own personal timeline is his own personal death, he decides to put something between that and his present. Specifically, his daughter's wedding.

Now, none of this is even close to as interesting as it sounds. While Nicholson does give us a few laughs in his candid letters to his African foster child, on the whole Schmidt comes across as an old stuffed toy that was given to you as a child by a distant relative, and sat on a shelf in your bedroom unloved and decrepit. His wife, played by June Squibb is instantly forgettable, as is the vanilla, tv drama portrayal of Jeannie Schmidt by Hope Davis. In fact, the two most interesting characters are Dermot Mulroney as Randall, the suitor Schmidt despises, and his mother, played by the aforementioned Bates. I find it odd that although the film tries it's best to illustrate why we should dislike Randall as strongly as his future father-in-law does, it appeared to have the reverse effect on me - with every goofy wisecrack or awkward attempt at bonding, I could detect a healthy undertone of sincerity and general kindness from the mullet-bearing mustachioed Romeo. Reminding me of nothing more than a big-hearted Kyle Petty, Randall won me over.

But you know what? This movie isn't called 'About Randall'. It's called About Schmidt, and it just doesn't deliver. I could walk on to any campground in the United States and certainly find home travel movies with more structure than Schmidt's random Winnebago wanderings, and certainly more than a few with genuine emotional resonance. Shooting stars and sliding candles don't do much more than make me wince and hope for something more.

The buzz was there, but the bee's nest was empty. No bees, no honey, no nothing, just a big lump of wax. And while an empty bee's nest is usually a good thing, in this case, being bored was much worse than being repeatedly stung.

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