About Schmidt - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

About Schmidt Reviews

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Super Reviewer
½ June 9, 2006
Alexander Payne and Jack Nicholson together? Awesome! But seriously though, this is a great movie.

It's a moving story, if a bit depressing, but it's told so well, and the performances are absolutely brilliant. Much was made about Kathy Bates' nude scene, but it's handled well, kinda fun (in a good way), and not a big deal. I'm not saying I liked seeing her naked, but c'mon, it actually could have been worse. Thankfully it's not cruel or exploitative.

I don't want to watch Payne's films too often, even if they are absolutely fantastic. His mastery of dark humor and uncomfortableness is both good and bad. He does it so well, and makes it all work and watchable, but the problem is, it can be a bit too real, thus difficult to watch very often. That's definitely the case here. It's a little easier to handle Sideways, though.

I like this movie a lot. It's funny, finely observed, and just really honest.
Super Reviewer
December 27, 2011
Another genuine, intelligent gem in Alexander Payne's short but ingenious filmography. Jack Nicholson turns in one of the best performances of his career in this profoundly realistic film from the master of the tragicomedy.
Super Reviewer
December 4, 2011
Schmidt is such a peculiar fellow, brilliantly played by Nicholson. His simplistic reserve and insulation have made him content in his routine of the past 42 years. This movie follows him as that routine is just absolutely shattered, nearly all at once, and we watch him struggle. Absurd characters, or caricatures really, abound to provide comic relief against the reality of Schmidt's situation -- maybe they are presented as Schmidt's impressions. I feel like this is only half the story. I really want to know what becomes of our "sad, sad, lonely man." But it ends in a touching way, so like Ndugu, I'll hope for the best.
Super Reviewer
July 20, 2009
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney, Kathy Bates, June Squibb, Howard Hesseman, Len Cariou, Cheryl Hamada, Christine Belford, Harry Groener, Connie Ray, Mark Venhuizen

Director: Alexander Payne

Summary: When insurance actuary Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) retires and his wife dies, he looks for life's meaning on a road trip to his daughter's (Hope Davis) upcoming wedding to a waterbed salesman (Dermot Mulroney). But Schmidt can't seem to get anything right. En route to the wedding, he shares his life through letters with a Tanzanian boy he's sponsoring for 73 cents a day -- and soon, Schmidt discovers renewed purpose.

My Thoughts: "Love Jack Nicholson but didn't love this movie. It was just OK for me. I guess maybe I was expecting to much from this movie considering it has Jack and Kathy Bates in it. The acting from them both was good as always, and they carried the movie. It was sad, depressing, and dark. It has some comedic moments. I guess it just wasn't my cup of tea as people say. Maybe I will watch it a second time around and change my mind. Not likely though."
Daniel Mumby
Super Reviewer
½ August 8, 2011
As much as I go on about directors in these reviews, there are some films which wouldn't be half as good without the central performance of their star. Alexander Payne's About Schmidt is a clear case in point, featuring Jack Nicholson in his best form for well over a decade. But over and above his commanding turn, the film succeeds as both a drama and a comedy, with a multitude of funny moments and genuine emotional involvement with the characters.

It's often the case with independent filmmakers that they strive to depart so far from Hollywood convention that they forget the basic rules of story and character construction. It's great to create a film which unfolds naturally through its characters, but many independent films end up with little more than a bunch of unlikeable, overly quirky or neurotic people wandering around aimlessly for two hours and generally being annoying.

Although Alexander Payne is deeply embedded in American indie cinema, he avoids these traps with grace and skill, to deliver a film populated by characters which not only feel real but are genuinely likeable. Contrary to what Noah Baumbach may think, real people do not spend their every waking hour complaining about their lives or putting other people down, no matter how troubled or depressed they are. A lot of the time people talk nonsense or embarrass themselves, and they don't sound like they spent the past ten minutes rehearsing every word of the next scene.

Payne's screenplay (co-written with Jim Taylor) embraces this aspect of humanity for what it is. His direction and treatment of the characters is very hands-off: he never feels the need for an obvious artistic flourish to create something 'distinctive', nor to push the characters in a given direction that would feel contrived. His focus is constantly on maintaining the realism of the situations that unfold and the naturally uncomfortable moments which are allowed to emerge. It's a triumph of understated writing and direction which puts About Schmidt streets ahead of The Squid and the Whale.

If the script is a royal flush, then Jack Nicholson is the ace up Payne's sleeve. In About Schmidt he delivers what is to date his last truly great performance, a masterclass of subtlety and ambiguity which is so far removed from his image as an over-the-top, scenery-chewing hell-raiser. It's as though he took the role as a means to giving the finger to all the critics who derided him for slipping into self-parody so often in the years following The Shining.

There have been many occasions in recent memory when Nicholson has phoned in his neurotic, smart alec shtick - think of The Witches of Eastwick, As Good As It Gets and certain portions of Batman. But he remains a great actor, who unlike his good friend Marlon Brando didn't just give up when the pay cheques got big enough. Seeing his performance here, I am reminded of the famous line from Sunset Boulevard: "I am [still] big. It's the pictures that got small."

Payne directs Nicholson to do as little as possible as Warren R. Schmidt, a decision which works like a dream. Because the character's movements are so small, and Nicholson's diction so weary and leaden, you soon forget you're watching Nicholson playing a crotchety old guy: he becomes a crotchety, sad, frustrated old man, who just happens to be played by Jack Nicholson. This means that when things threaten to get wacky or kooky, the film generally keeps its feet on the ground, anchored by a man who feels constantly unable to express what he really wants to say.

About Schmidt is a film about ageing and retirement, particularly about how the relationships we have built up in our working life alter dramatically when we are deemed too old to keep coming into the office. Following his impersonal sending-off party, Schmidt finds that he is quickly forgotten at his workplace in spite of his long years of service. His former boss tells him he can drop by any time, but when he does his replacement is quick to brush him off, telling him in the kindest possible way that he is no longer needed.

Schmidt's personal relationships also suffer. In the absence of a work-related routine, his wife Helen (June Squibb) becomes more domineering, making him pay for a Winnebago and picking up on all his habits. Schmidt reciprocates, making a long list in his first letter to Ndugu about all the aspects of his wife that he can't stand. He disapproves of his daughter's marriage, reacting as badly to her defiance of him as to her fiancee's gesture of friendship. The longer the film goes on, the lonelier Schmidt becomes, and the more he begins to think that his whole life has been for nothing.

In its blend of pathos, droll wit and fatalism, About Schmidt bears an uncanny resemblance to Krapp's Last Tape, Samuel Beckett's brilliant 1958 play about an old man listening to tape recordings of his younger self, with a general sense of futility and resentment about past, present and future. There is less emphasis on Schmidt's past than there is on Krapp's, but in both cases the main action has already passed. The characters are in terminal decline, not only in physical health but in motivation, with an increasing sense that every commitment they have made in life means precious little to anyone anymore, least of all to them.

That's not to say that About Schmidt is all doom and gloom. In fact it's a barrel of laughs, and not all of them consist of wry smiles in the corners of one's mouth. Some of the set-pieces are hilarious, such as Nicholson trying to get settled on the waterbed, or the famous scene of him and Kathy Bates sharing awkward glances in the crowded hot tub. The script is full of cracking lines, many of which go to Bates: she offers Nicholson some pills for his neck pain with the reassurance that "these were left over from my hysterectomy".

Payne's timing as a director is impeccable and his long-time editor Kevin Tent allows the payoffs and punch-lines the time they need to breathe. The slow, thoughtful pace of both the film and Nicholson's dialogue gives us time to take in and laugh at his facial tics and expressions - especially when he's on the hysterectomy pills. The running joke of Schmidt taking out his anger by writing to a child is a consistent highlight: whenever the words "Dear Ndugu" come up in the voiceover, we know we're going to laugh for a good five minutes.

But About Schmidt's self-deprecating comedy has poignant intentions behind it, which are revealed in the final scene. Schmidt returns home from the wedding further alienated from his daughter to find that someone has written to him on Ndugu's behalf. He reads the letter, which expresses gratitude at all he has done for the boy, and he slowly but surely bursts into tears. Having gone through two hours of sad sympathy for this man, we find him joyously vindicated, and we share in the joy that his life has benefited someone, even in an unconscious way.

About Schmidt is a great comedy-drama which finds both director and star at the top of their game. Despite occasional moments which are slow or seem overly quirky, there is so much to cherish in these characters that you either forgive such flaws or quickly learn to overlook them. Whether Nicholson manages to turn in another performance like this in his remaining career remains to be seen. But on the basis of this, one of these every ten years would be well worth waiting for.
Super Reviewer
June 21, 2011
Alexander Payne is most certainly an artist. He crafts these intimate character studies that are layered and deep and "About Schmidt" continues this trend. Jack Nicholson delivers one of his best performances as a man who, after his wife suddenly dies, needs to stand on his own two feet. The film does come across as condescending at times with it's depiction of 'small town/middle America.' Payne is trying for the sharp satire of "Election" but it sort of misses the mark. Still, the film boasts strong performances and takes you on a sensitive enough journey. It's not Payne's best work (that would clearly be "Sideways") but it's well worth your time.
Super Reviewer
½ April 19, 2011
About Schmidt is a well-thought out and honest little film that Jack Nicholson puts on his back and carries as the title character, playing against type. It was nice to see him portray someone other than Jack Nicholson, it's been a while. Real people with real problems abound in this movie, and it's a slow and touching examination of loneliness and fractured family relations. Not a perfect film by any stretch, and probably not one you'll buy and watch over and over, but it's definitely worth seeing.
Super Reviewer
August 3, 2010
Before I review this, let's state the obvious: this is a Jack Nicholson vehicle. His worst film could be the best of the decade. Saying that, I only have several problems with this film. Though it's a wrenching drama about the limitations of old age, the death of loved ones, and the inevitability of death, there was nothing new or explosive about it. Sure, men of a certain age become desperate, childlike nimrods when left to their own devices, and they search for validation in their loved ones who have since moved on, but an angsty road trip film isn't going to encapsulate that fully. The build up to that final scene was without any warning, and though it was tear inducing, it was not what that film needed. It needed its own validation. Oh, and it's true about the Kathy Bates nude scene, but it's brief, so don't refuse to see it just because you're close minded.
Super Reviewer
June 13, 2006
Jack Nicholson finds himself faced with retirement and the spouse's death, leaving him little to do and no purpose in life. He decides to prevent his daughter's marriage with a dimwit. What follows is a road movie full of nostalgic scenes, quirky humor and characters. The performances are outstanding. The somewhat depressing and dark mood of the film is turned around by one of the most touching final scenes ever. Lovely.
Super Reviewer
April 4, 2009
"Schmidt Happens"

Warren Schmidt is a man in his 60's. While trying to run his daughter's life, he realizes that he wasted his.

Nicholson gives a career high performance as Warren Schmidt, a recently retired life insurance actuary from Omaha, Nebraska who comes to an emotional crossroads in his life when his wife suddenly dies and his only daughter is about to marry a complete moron. Schmidt seeks some meaning for his existence and goes on a literal and metaphorical road trip, Winnebago at the helm, across America as he ventures to the wedding ceremony accruing while realizing that life will always take care of itself even if one doesn't know what will become of themselves (no truer thought has ever been realized quite comically nor clearly as it does here). Filmmaker Alexander Payne (who adapted Louis Begley's novel with his longtime collaborator Jim Taylor) shrewdly mixes the mundane with the meaningful in an acrid slice of Americana that threatens to curdle as it nurtures along its merrily demented way. Nicholson smartly downplays the easily caricatured character it could've been by ditching his waycool persona and physically resembles a shrugged shoulder replete with bad combover and easily to his 12th Academy Award nomination. Immersing himself wholeheartedly and - who expected, quite poignantly - brilliantly; one of the finest interpretations ever displayed in cinematic history (and that's saying something for this icon's canon of film work!) Bates is a riot as his in-law to be who has no qualms about herself - a complete 180 from Nicholson's impression - and Mulroney lets the mullet do all the work smartly. Davis manages the tightrope of good daughter and angry child within allowing her character's seams to show at her worst and deep down loves her estranged father.
Super Reviewer
August 31, 2006
Jack Nicholson, in one of his less well known roles as Warren Schmidt, really does excel one again in a really touching performance. One which is was Oscar nominated along with Kathy Bates( in an hilarious performance.) One to watch!

*Highly Recomended*
Super Reviewer
August 2, 2006
This film oddly describes itself as a Comedy, but if you?re looking for a film to add some cheer to your day, this really isn?t it. It?s a depressing Drama with the odd comedy moment thrown in.

Jack Nicholson does give (as always) a very good performance, as does Kathy Bates, whom I really admire for doing the nude shot. It was the storyline, that for me really doesn?t appeal too much to anyone who isn?t in their age range.

Being a bit of a Spiritual soul myself, I did find the spiritual part of the storyline very stereotyped, however, it probably was the most uplifting part of the film.
Super Reviewer
June 17, 2008
This movie inspired me to donate money to help support a poor child. It was THAT good.
Super Reviewer
½ May 18, 2008
Sad...but quite funny.
Super Reviewer
January 26, 2007
Great film that makes you really not want to be old, but makes you appreciate old people at the same time.
Super Reviewer
½ February 10, 2008
I saw this for the second time today. I liked it less this time. I found Schmidt depressing. Perhaps that is the point. Nicholson plays the role well. I wonder if Schmidt has learnt anything from his experiences in the movie?
Super Reviewer
July 30, 2007
Alexander Payne is quickly becoming one of my favorite writer/director's out there.
Super Reviewer
October 19, 2007
Nicholson at his best, often sad and depressing, but a captivating look at a lonely soul
Super Reviewer
½ June 5, 2007
another one of those internal conflicts within a character that is just very very silent and apparently you're supposed to...think what the character's thinking or something? i guess i did, but the problem was i didn't care AT ALL about jack nicholson's character...
Super Reviewer
May 22, 2007
Proof why Nicholson is still a powerhouse actor even today.
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