January 15, 2003

About Schmidt

I must say that I laughed hysterically through most of “About Schmidt,” despite, or maybe because of the fact that Warren Schmidt is such a pathetic character. We want Warren to be happy, but we can’t help laughing at how clueless he is, and how ridiculous the situations he’s faced with. Jack Nicholson gives a radically different, vanity-free performance, and his determined, deadpan manner in the face of frustration just makes every scene even funnier. And so we’re surprisingly touched when he discovers that there’s more to life after all. While this movie's subject matter seems to be conventional enough—a man retires and loses his wife unexpectedly, realizes that he’s been missing out on much of what’s important, and then tries to make up for it as he embarks on the next phase of his life—it’s risky because it skewers the tastelessness and apathy of average Americans, and it's thus bound to puzzle or offend those it's poking fun at. But for those with a sense of humor, the rewards are ample, especially if you pay attention to the little details; everything in this movie, from the priceless dialogue to the clothes, makeup, hair, and set decoration is comic perfection. I loved the damning-with-faint-praise inscriptions on son-in-law-to-be Randall’s award certificates in his bedroom and his awful, thinning-on-top mullet hairdo. Listen to the dialogue in the dinner-table scene–how Kathy Bates’ character (Randall's mother) emasculates her ex-husband with her impatience. Or the sounds in the background as Schmidt phones his daughter, who may not have “a job of some importance” after all. For some men, no matter how successful, who fear ending up like Schmidt, this movie may hit too close to home, but if it’s a cautionary tale, it’s certainly the funniest one in a long time.

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