A recently retired man loses his wife and embarks on a cross-country
trip to try and stop his estranged daughter from marrying a loser.
About Schmidt (2002)
Directed by Alexander Payne
Written by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor
Starring Jack Nicholson, Hope Davis, Kathy Bates,
June Squibb, Dermot Mulroney, Howard Hesseman
Based on the novel by Louis Begley
Oscar Nominations - Best Actor (Jack Nicholson),
Best Supporting Actress (Kathy Bates)
About Schmidt was Jack Nicholson's final Oscar-nominated performance before his retirement in 2010. It can be viewed, I suppose, as a spiritual sequel to Five Easy Pieces, in that it's character driven and Jack plays a lonely man who lacks direction in life, only this time it's at the end of that life. When you combine Jack Nicholson with Alexander Payne, you get ridiculously high expectations. For me, the film was ultimately just a bit slow and aimless, leaving way too many things unfinished. But Jack is fantastic, as always, as a man with nothing left to care about, and no one who needs him in their life.
Warren Schmidt (Nicholson) is a recently retired insurance actuary who lives in Omaha, Nebraska with his wife of 42 years (Squibb). I almost fell asleep just writing that. One day, his wife dies of a blood clot, leaving Schmidt alone for the first time in decades. His daughter (Davis) is about to marry some loser waterbed salesman (Mulroney), so he hops in the RV to drive to the wedding, hoping he can talk her out of it. Along the way, he writes letters to a Tanzanian child named Ndugu, whom he is sponsoring. The whole journey has no real point to it, and once he does get to the wedding, he briefly tries to talk his daughter out of it, only to cause a rift that never gets healed. He just gives up, leaving the message of the film to basically be "Don't bother trying, because we all end up alone anyway." Kind of a downer.
About Schmidt is worth watching for Jack's performance, but the story is fairly disappointing. The film ends abruptly without following through on Schmidt's relationship with his daughter or his wife's love letters to his best friend. Maybe a lot of this is answered in Louis Begley's novel, which I read Payne widely ignored in his screenplay. Regardless, it's not terrible.