Those of you who read this blog in December and January know that I’m kind of obsessed with the work of director Jason Reitman. While doing some research on him, I came across some of his cinematic influences. One of the filmmakers he lists is Alexander Payne. I had seen one of Payne’s movies, “Election,” but I decided that I needed to further explore. ”Sideways” was good, but it’s not something people my age are supposed to get. The movie that really struck me was “About Schmidt,” so much in fact that I even decided to call it my “F.I.L.M. of the Week.” (And just for the sake of the occasional refresher, the acronym stands for First-Class, Independent Little-Known Movie.)
The titular character, Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson), is at an end-of-life crisis. After retiring, he enters the twilight years with cynicism and boredom. His wife is aging quickly, and Schmidt often wonders where the woman that he married has gone. His daughter (Hope Davis) is marrying a dimwitted guy who sports a mullet (Dermot Mulroney). Despite his best attempts, he can’t get her to reconsider. In all aspects of life, Schmidt feels useless.
But soon Schmidt is left alone, and he decides to recapture control of his life by driving a Winnebago to see sights from his childhood en route to the wedding. Even after logging all these miles, he still can’t escape the feeling that his life is inconsequential.
“About Schmidt” is at its best whenever it shows Schmidt trying to make a difference in someone’s life. After seeing an ad on TV, he decides to sponsor a child in Tanzania named Ndugu. He can’t pronounce the name, but Schmidt earnestly wants to help this child. He goes further beyond providing monetary support and makes contact with Ndugu, writing him many revealing letters about his own life. It’s somewhat pathetic to think that Schmidt can only tell these things to Ndugu, but it further reveals how lost this man is.
It’s easy to see how movies like this have influenced Jason Reitman (for example, the wedding scenes in this and “Up in the Air”) and other directors, and “About Schmidt” is a movie that deserves to be imitated. Jack Nicholson gives no doubt as to why he is one of the best – if not the best – actors of our time. The supporting performances are great as well, particularly Kathy Bates as Schmidt’s overbearing future in-law. The Golden Globes classify this as a drama, and in large part, that’s what it is. But “About Schmidt” has enough laughs to satisfy any moviewatching mood you could possibly be in.