Based on the novel by Louis Begley, Warren Schmidt is your average workaday middle-aged man with the nameless face who has just retired from his Insurance company after years of service. With an uncertain future ahead of him, he’s managed to evaluate what he’s done with his life. When his wife Helen suddenly dies, he begins to realize that maybe he hasn’t achieved everything he wanted in his life and seeks out to look for his soul once and for all and hopes to convince his daughter not to marry her fiancé. This film is such a real and breathtakingly down to earth portrait of a middle-aged man who’s reached the end of his road regarding life and accomplishments to reach. Prolific actor Jack Nicholson (nominated for best actor) who is at his best when he’s not being Jack Nicholson gives a melancholy excellent performance as the pathetic Warren Schmidt who basically takes life and family for granted.
His daughter Jeannie, played with much skill by Hope Davis (who gave a critically acclaimed performance in “American Splendor”), avoids her father like grim death and often refuses when he begs her to stay. “About Schmidt” is about life and how people tend to take it for granted and only begin to live it when it’s too late in life to do any real living. Schmidt travels on the open road on his trailer his wife bought and travels to his daughter to convince her to drop her marriage but doesn’t realize he’s living the life he never wanted to live traveling across country. Nicholson is a master in performing as an inept middle-aged man and become the character so well, I tend to forget it’s even him. He manages to deliver deadpan oddball one-liners with quick delivery comic timing; watching the people react to his inept behavior is laugh-inducing and entertaining; despite being very funny, there are some rather tender moments within the story especially when Schmidt sits atop his trailer talking to his wife up in the sky which almost becomes heart-wrenching.
It’s a bittersweet story as we watch this man struggling with his own loneliness and desperation for someone to connect to hoping to come across a friend he so desperately seeks, but inadvertently does so with a young African boy he sponsor’s through mail writing letters chronicling his trek to his daughter. He also realizes that the people he once thought he knew, he didn’t really because he never spared the time to get to know his loved ones. At one point he discovers a secret about his wife that he’s never known and reacts in rage but what else can he do besides get angry when he never really took the time to know his wife and can never really do anything about it. Also, his daughter Jeannie doesn’t want to be around him yet he forces himself on her emotionally, getting to know her fiancé’s yuppie family.
Dermot Mulroney gives a hilarious performance as the mullet wearing yuppie Randall Hertzel who runs a water bed store and buys into the pyramid schemes. Despite being a loser, Jeannie loves him nonetheless and it becomes almost suspicious that she may be marrying him to spite her father. The character Randall is great often chanting Yoga mantra’s that he obviously doesn’t understand as he wears his handlebar mustache and cheesy mullet. The rest of his family are oddities; including Kathy Bates who gives an excellent performance as the domineering yet free-spirited Roberta who takes care of Schmidt and manages to serve as his symbolic opposite. She’s free-spirited and happy go lucky while he’s stiff and cranky.
There is a hilarious scene where he soaks in the hot tub to soothe the stiff neck he received by sleeping on Randall’s waterbed and Bate’s character gets completely nude into the tub with him. You have to give Kathy Bates credit for getting completely nude during the film, taking risks many actresses wouldn’t dare to, and the panicky expression on Schmidt’s face watching her get into the tub with him is priceless. Bates manages to absorb this character and make it her own as she does with every character she plays in the movies despite her less than large part. Ultimately, Schmidt ends up where he began and finds that maybe his life wasn’t completely wasted when he receives a revelation from an unlikely source that makes up for everything; it’s a poignant end product with a satisfying story.
Though most of the film manages to pull out some original material, barely any of it is barely funny and most of it is so damn depressing and grim that it becomes a task to watch the Nicholson character. He’s old, he’s all alone and we want him to feel loved despite his past mistakes. He gets what he deserves in the end, ending up exactly how he lived but nonetheless it’s really depressing to endure among all the awkwardness of the characters who are around him and whatnot. You almost feel as if you’re in Schmidt’s shoes hoping he find someone to be with or find friendship with during the film. Also, while the story is fascinating there’s nothing truly original or even memorable to watch aside from the great performances from Nicholson, Bates, and Davis. A slightly flawed but ultimately very fascinating, entertaining and engrossing character study and comedy that pulls in grade “A” performances from the entire cast.