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"About Schmidt"

Directed by Alexander Payne ("Election").
Written by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor.  Based on the novel by Louis Begley.
Starring Jack Nicholson and Kathy Bates
Release Year:  2002
Review Date:  1/5/03


While I was visiting New York City last week, I had to catch a flick.  Some of my friends had already seen “Antwone Fisher”, “Adaptation” and “The 25th Hour”, so I tried to rein in some folks with the new drama “About Schmidt.”  My friend Alexandra—a Bellview rookie!—took the bait so we hung out for a showing at the Union Square theater.

Save for the fact that I had to pay NYC matinee prices--$10, bastards!--“About Schmidt” was all good in the hood.  Jack Nicholson gives it all he’s got as newly-retired insurance man Warren Schmidt, who leaves a company at the start of the film and realizes that he knows nearly nothing about his wife of 40 years, Helen (June Squibb).  He’s also got a daughter (Hope Davis) on the verge of marrying a knuckleheaded waterbed salesman (the always-reliable Dermot Mulroney) and he worries for her future.  With nothing to do all day, he stumbles upon one of those “Save the Children”-style organizations where he puts up $22 a day to sponsor a child in Tanzania named Ndugu...and, Schmidt spends much of the film writing letters about his inner thoughts to his new pen pal.

“About Schmidt” is a rambling road drama that is almost a coming-of-age story as Schmidt discovers all that he has become—and missed—in 66 years of hanging out with the living.  His ongoing sense of regret for what he has missed leads him to try and grasp what little he has got left, and Nicholson plays the more reserved Schmidt with incredible depth, without resorting to some of the wild outbursts that have characterized many of his previous roles.  So, in the film’s second-funniest scene, Schmidt tries to get situated on a waterbed, and as he flounders there, trying to get his whole body on the bed, you are laughing at how ridiculous it all looks, but never does Schmidt fly off the handle or get upset...he just tries to work through the ordeal.

Besides Nicholson, the film’s strength lies in director Alexander Payne’s pacing, the hilarious-yet-poignant letters to Ndugu, and the performance in the film’s last half-hour by Kathy Bates, who is as close to guaranteed of a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination as anyone else this year.  She gives “About Schmidt” that extra punch to finish out the film and provides a film moment that literally had me grabbing Alexandra’s leg in mock fear when it happened.  Love that!

Payne, who previously directed “Election”—and summarily made Reese Witherspoon a star—does more incredible work in a Midwestern setting and I’m excited to see what he does next.  I really couldn’t think of anything about this flick that wasn’t strong, from the well-crafted supporting characters to the perfect mix of laughs and drama to the cinematography to the solid ending, “About Schmidt” should appeal in the good to everyone.

Rating:  Opening Weekend


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09