This is the kind of movie you see late at night on Comedy Central
. You keep thinking: "When does this movie become funny?", until you realize it is in fact not a comedy, but a drama. And then you continue to watch it anyway.About Schmidt
is a drama movie starring Jack Nicholson
, playing Warren Schmidt. He is not a particularly nice person, since... well... we are talking about Jack Nicholson, so what did you expect?
Warren Schmidt just retired and has to face the fact that he has to spend his last remaining years on earth with his boring nagging wife. Out of boredom, he decides to adopt a foster child in Africa, to which he write letters about how much his life sucks now. One of the few things that keeps him going is his daughter, who is about to get married to a dimwitted, trailer trash like, waterbed salesman.
As he goes out one day, mulling about his wife, he returns to find her dead of a blood clot. Not much later, he finds some old love letters lying around the house. It turns out that his wife had an affair with his best friend, some 25 years earlier.
Deciding he had enough of just waiting for death to knock on his door, Schmidt embarks on a road trip to (stop!) his daughter's wedding, visiting the places he frequented throughout his life on his way over there.
The whole time Schmidt narrates his views through the letters he sends to his foster child in Africa. Along the line he reflects about the life he had, he learns to miss his deceased wife and starts questioning if anything he did actually made a difference to anyone.
The movie, while set for a Downer Ending
(is he, or is he not going to kill himself?), instead ends on a Tear Jerker
About Schmidt provides examples of the following:
- Academy Award: Jack Nicholson in a dramatic portrayal? More like Academy Award Bait.
- Actor Allusion: Although Nicholson deliberately suppresses his usual persona to play the downtrodden Schmidt, in one of the letter-writing scenes he talks about how he once dreamed of starting a Fortune 500 company and an imaginary magazine cover is shown with the headline "Warren Schmidt raises the stakes - and some eyebrows" with a picture of him doing so himself, looking a bit more like a typical Jack Nicholson character.
- Bathtub Bonding: This is what Randall's mother attempts on Warren, to say the least.
- Bittersweet Ending: It's either this, or a Tear Jerker. Is Schmidt holding on to the letter from Ndugu's caretaker as a last resort, or is it genuinely worth sticking around for?
- But I Digress: When requested to write a brief letter to Ndugu, the poor African child he has decided to sponsor, Schmidt begins by saying a few things about himself, including having a brother who lost a leg to diabetes, and soon ends up pouring his heart out about all the disappointments in his life; his aging wife who he can't stand anymore, his seemingly ungrateful former employers replacing him with someone much younger and less experienced, and his daughter getting engaged to a man he doesn't approve of. Eventually he decides to wrap it up so Ndugu can go off and spend the money he's sent to him (of course where Ndugu lives there can't be many shops). These "Dear Ndugu" letters are used at various points in the film as a device to summarize what Schmidt's been up to and for him to reflect on things. Quite what Ndugu or whoever ends up reading them will make of all this is anyone's guess.
- Downer Ending: Narrowly averted in the end, when Schmidt receives a letter from his foster child.
- Dysfunctional Family: Certainly how Warren sees Randall's family (they live in a messy street, his divorced hippie parents don't get on very well) but this is shown to be somewhat hypocritical since his relationship with his own wife and daughter isn't perfect either.
- Enforced Method Acting: For some of the characters we meet along Warren's road trip. The tire shop attendant for one thing was not an actor, he is an actual employee of an actual tire shop 'Warren' visits.
- Fan Disservice: If there are still people out there who think Nicholson is still sexy: hot tub scene.
- Um... surely Kathy Bates drops a lot more jaws in this scene??
- Flyover Country: Like Payne's previous two films, this film was shot in Omaha, Nebraska. And instead of flying, Schmidt decides to use his new, oversized Winnebago to drive to Denver for his daughter's wedding, and we see countryside that would normally be missed by air travelers.
- Hippie Parents: Roberta, who at one point admits she breastfed Randall til he was almost 5. Also Randall's father seems a bit like one. Used as a contrast to Schmidt's very conventional lifestyle.
- In Name Only: The book is about a widowed retiree who is unhappy with his daughter's marriage, but it is different in pretty much every other respect. The movie changed the setting, Schmidt's career, the daughter's career, the son-in-law's career, and eliminated the love affair that Schmidt had with a 25 year-old waitress.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Warren Schmidt. Now that he has gone into retirement, he realizes that he despises his wife. He is actually looking forward to a life without her. And then she dies... it takes a while before he realizes what he has to miss without her.
- Also the fumbling attempt of him trying to persuade his daughter not to marry her fiance. Yes Warren, you are right, but you don't have to be such of an ass.
- Kitsch Collection: Warren Schmidt's wife, Helen, collects little Hummel figurines, to Warren's displeasure. Later in the film Warren visits a museum full of them and has to admit they aren't all so bad. Warren and Helen are both in their late 60s, and Helen is depicted as grandmotherly, though technically not a grandmother.
- Large Ham: Totally averted by Nicholson. Even his grand speech during the wedding scene was low-key.
- Manly Tears: Warren himself at the end.
- Non-Nude Bathing: Warren during the hot tub scene, in some edits. Randall's mother.
- Playing Against Type: Completely with Jack Nicholson. One of the most magnetic movie superstars plays a boring, repressed man who's led a dull, somewhat wasted life. With a comb-over. And we see him really letting himself go once his wife dies This is one film where you cannot accuse him of playing Jack Nicholson.
- The Red Stapler: You might guess Childreach had a massive spike in donations after the film was released.
- Stalker Without a Crush: Warren himself towards Jeannie.
- Surrogate Soliloquy: Schmidt has a hard time dealing with his mandatory retirement from his mundane job as an insurance actuary. Feeling useless, he responds to a TV ad by "adopting," for a few dollars a month, an African foster child named Ndugu Umbo to whom he writes a series of frank letters describing his many problems, humiliations and misadventures. Schmidt's voice-over narration of these letters, which must make little sense to Ndugu in far-away Tanzania, reveals his troubled inner life with tragic-comic directness to the film's audience.
- To Absent Friends: Parodied somewhat, when the emotional ex-husband of Warren Schmidt's daughter's fiance's mother gets up to give a speech at the restaurant table. "If only my parents were with us today... but they are really here... right now... hi, Mom... hiya, pop..." Most of the family watches him give his speech, while Warren's head rolls around in meds-induced ecstasy.
- You Can't Go Home Again: During one of his excursions on his way to his daughter's wedding, Schmidt goes to visit his childhood home from many years ago, only to find a tire shop now standing in its place. He still goes inside and tries to reminisce, to the bemusement of the clerk.