About Schmidt

Reviewed By Abhishek Bandekar
Posted 07/16/05 17:46:24

"Not Only About Schmidt…"
3 stars (Average)

Warren Schmidt is not a hero. After sixty-six winters, he’s not much of a success either! Warren Schmidt lived his entire life the way he was asked of. He earned a college degree, found a secure job, got married- remained too, raised a beautiful daughter and made himself a picture-perfect suburban life with a Winnebago and everything. And yet if he were to die, we know he won’t be missed. And he knows it too. No tomb will be erected honouring the life of Warren Schmidt, no epitaph will eulogize his accomplishments and no plaque will praise his contributions to mankind. Warren Schmidt, like millions of us, will remain the one who came, saw and silently went without any fanfare!

Warren Schmidt, played flawlessly by Jack Nicholson, is a man who realizes that his life has been a waste. After serving almost all of his living days as an actuary for an insurance firm, he has no reason to wake up to every morning post-retirement. His wife Helen(June Squibb) tries to cheer him with a breakfast in the Winnebago. But for a day that promises nothing more than sitting on a couch flipping through television channels, a breakfast doesn’t sound very exciting. His marriage of forty-two years has been a formal affair; to the extent that he still finds his wife a stranger living in his house. It is only when she dies that he misses her presence. His pain, however, is soon replaced with anger and disillusionment once he discovers an old secret and realizes that his marriage had been a lie. Having lived a fruitless life of compromise(he urinates sitting on the toilet-seat because his wife asked him to!), Warren decides to rectify the one mistake that he can before it is committed. Jumping into his Winnebago, which he never used for the duration that he owned it, Warren travels to his daughter Jeannie(Hope Davis) in hope of stopping her form marrying Randall(Dermot Mulroney), a ‘nincompoop’ who offers his condolence to Warren upon Helen’s demise in the same tone in which he proposes a ‘pyramid’ scheme! But Jeannie doesn’t need her father’s advice, and maybe she doesn’t need him. Warren Schmidt has lived a thankless life doing the right things and taking the right steps without anybody acknowledging it.

We learn Warren’s frustrations through his letters to Ndugu, a six year old Tanzanian kid whom he decides to sponsor after watching a television advertisement. These letters act as an outlet for all the pent-up feelings that Warren has bottled within him. So bereft of emotions has Warren’s life been that when an unfamiliar couple invite him to a dinner in their trailer, he misinterprets the considerate nature of the wife as a sexual advance and ends up embarrassing himself. It is a testament to Jack Nicholson’s acting prowess that he manages to portray Warren, a restricted individual, so effortlessly considering that Nicholson’s off-screen persona is completely contrary to Warren’s. Compare this to Kathy Bates’s Roberta, Randall’s twice divorced mother. Roberta is a bohemian hedonist who’s lived an uninhibited life with an undying zest. Reverse the gender, and you have the type of role that we expect Jack to play! Warren Schmidt is not the sneering and brash Nicholson that we are used to; Warren Schmidt is a person who even compromises with himself by faking happiness on his daughter’s wedding!

Alexander Payne does a brilliant job at directing a story that may read well as a novel but not something that could be transformed easily on film. He achieves it though- Warren’s life is encapsulated in minor details like his visit to the departmental store, Helen’s vacuuming of the kitchen and miniatures placed in showcases. But in this calculated effort to familiarize us with Warren’s life, the narrative gets affected and becomes tedious. This wouldn’t have mattered had the background score been better. I sorely missed Thomas Newman!

The unhurried pace shouldn’t bother anybody who prefer movie characters to develop thereby allowing us to understand them, rather than cardboard cut-outs(dumb blonde, bald bad-guy, gay artiste, hunky action-hero, etc.). Because the success of ‘About Schmidt’ lies precisely in how much we know about Schmidt! Do Warren Schmidt and his life really mean nothing to anybody? The movie answers this question beautifully at its resolution, in what is undoubtedly one of the best endings in film history!

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