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About Schmidt - Movie Review

The joy of watching slice-of-life movies is the ease with which the viewer can slip into the shoes of the characters. There is hope and despair, comedy and tragedy, interesting events and ... well, thought provoking silent moments - just like our lives. Alexander Payne's 'About Schmidt' deals with a life that's typical small town, square state middle America, but we can see ourselves in Schmidt's mirror. The force of this movie lies in it's simplicity.

Warren Schmidt, a retired insurance company executive from Nebraska stares at the void that is his past and future. He's sixty-six years old, he's just lost his wife, emotionally and physically distant from his daughter, he wonders what's the meaning and purpose of his stay on the planet. Deep inside he's afraid that his existence of six decades is pointless and saddened at the prospects of his future.

To fill this void, Warren adopts a boy in Tanzania through a child help programme, through which he'll send money every month for the boy's education and other basic social requirements. His letters to Ngudu, his foster son, are the means of his emotional ventilation where he expresses how he doesn't love his wife, and later, when she dies, how he misses her. He's also not happy with the younger generations's attitude: his replacement at the insurance company is cocky and values his degree over Warren's experience is just one case.

His daughter's about to get married and he's not happy with her choice of groom. He tries to stop her, but he's too late to impress his words upon her. Though he feels that his daughter could find a better man - intellectually and financially, he doesn't realize that emotional compatibility is the key to a successful relationship, which he didn't share with his wife. At one point he finds a woman with whom he'd spent less than an hour to be more understanding than his wife of forty two years.

Jack Nicholson very adroitly plays Schmidt - there is such control in his expressions that you can teach a young actor with this performance. He's almost in every scene and carries the movie all by himself until Kathy Bates (his son-in-law's mother) steps in and steals the show. Alexander Payne's direction is very natural and believable - not a false step, not a bad dialogue and creates a sympathy for Schmidt inspite of the character's weaknesses.

The movie has elements that are mish-mashed of road-trip, end-life crisis, satire and cynicism. But I think of it as an exercise in character study: we are allowed to observe the old man who is retired from a job of repute who thinks he's done nothing useful with his life; who is bad at managing his daily requirements all by himself; who can't express his love for his daughter and at the same time wants to be loved; and finds solace, peace and happiness in a boy who accepts him as his foster father.

1 Responses to “About Schmidt - Movie Review”

  1. # Anonymous Arvind

    just read a review of "A Spot of Bother" by mark haddon in nyt. thought there was some overlap in the storylines.  

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