…and the quest to see everything

The Golden Age: About Schmidt

The Shiningph. Alliance

Alexander Payne‘s About Schmidt is, to my knowledge, Jack Nicholson‘s third foray into the road trip movie, strangely enough because his earlier two road trip movies went so well for his characters. In the first one, Easy Rider, his character visits American landmarks while in the second one, , makes his character Jack Torrance delve into familial dysfunction in the remnants of native and pioneer civilizations. And we can say that this relatively newer movie has a bit of both.

Payne punctuates the film through Nicholson’s protagonist Warren Schmidt’s epistolary narration to his World Vision-styled adopted Tanzanian 6-year-old Ndugu. Ndugu’s probably has no use of the knowledge of Warren’s woefully mundane life since we assume that he’s evading famine, but at least Warren’s not complaining about being too rich, famous or some other insufferable first world problem. What he writes and what really happens sometimes syncs up, like his retirement forcing him to notice his vehement lack of attraction to his unglamorous wife who is the same age to his devastated state when said dowdy wife dies.

But he’s mostly  an unreliable narrator when it comes to his treatment of his wife when she was still alive, keeping the household in shape after her passing to the conditions and sights on the road. Sometimes he’s in between, telling Ndugu that he’s driving on a Winnebago from his residence in Omaha to Colorado to stop his daughter Jeannie (Hope Davis) from making a terrible decision that she’s regret for the rest of her life. That decision, which he doesn’t tell Ndugu, is her marrying some pyramid scamming schmuck with mulletted gray hair. There’s finally some things that anyone would try to block from memory, like his sexually charged encounters with two women (Kathy Bates) close to his age.

I don’t blame Warren for his lies, equivocations and omissions, since he’s thrust to become a new person and find his new fit into this new age, vulgar, overtly commercialized world, which is hard to do at his age. He wakes and behaves as if disoriented. All he has to do is watch, and it’s for us to find out whether he accepts the inevitable world in which he might not leave a trace. And despite the film’s conventionally sentimental end, the film’s results, along with the four menacing notes on its soundtrack, are deliciously symphonic.

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5 responses

  1. I don’t know if there is another actor or any other director alive who could have made About Schmidt as entertaining as it is. Great film and one of my favorite for the year of 2002. Nice Review!

    August 31, 2011 at 2:15 am

  2. I can’t think about a specifically bad thing to say about this one, I enjoyed it Jack isn’t on autopilot. Kathy is funny, even her character is presented so broadly. But, it’s not one I enjoyed watching again. When I saw it the second time, it was as if all the nuances were already learned – nothing left to see.

    August 31, 2011 at 6:54 pm

  3. It saddens me to think this might just be Jack’s last truly great performance. He’s gone on full on autopilot mode ever since. Like Pacino who lately just screams and makes crazy eyes and calls it “acting”.

    September 1, 2011 at 9:57 am

  4. Dan and Jose: It’s true. Nicholson uses his physicality or anti-physicality, walking like the Tin Man and as other critics have said, breathing life into a character that we might see on a daily basis.

    Andrew: I totally understand. It’s misanthropic at one point and sentimental the next, to a very jarring effect.

    September 2, 2011 at 3:05 am

  5. ZOMG!!!!! Jose, he wasn’t on autopilot in The Departed!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

    Okay, I’m out. I’m out. Incidentally, I’ve found Jack to be Jack in everything except Reds (which is he fantastic in) sometimes it works, sometimes its tragic, sometimes it wins him Oscars.

    September 5, 2011 at 10:07 pm

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