SCORE: 3 1/2Stars
About Schmidt is a meandering film, punctuated by random bursts of desperation and humor. The screenplay is too anecdotal to be considered brilliant. Our movie feels like a collection of scenes rather than a cohesive story. It all works because About Schmidt is "about" great characters.
The story begins with Schmidt's retirement. We get the feeling that Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) made a comfortable living and had the respect of his peers. We also get the feeling that Schmidt's job was none too difficult or imaginative. Still reeling from the loss of his career, Schmidt's wife of over forty years dies. I give this away because it happens early (and she is drawn as more of a caricature than a real person). Facing tremendous loss and equal doses of boredom, Schmidt no longer feels useful. But, there's something deeper that troubles him. Schmidt is unable to feel satisfaction because his life was previously "defined" by his career and his marriage. The man has little to call his own. Stimulating hobbies? None. Profound ideas? Zero.
At this point, our screenplay could have taken us just about anywhere. What follows is a kind of road picture where Schmidt is unable to orchestrate a single successful relationship with those he meets along the way. Herein lies the (dark) humor of the film.
Ultimately, Schmidt is on a quest to mend his relationship with his daughter. She's about to be married to a man of questionable standards. Is Schmidt a good father? Is his relationship with his daughter now paramount because of the loss of his wife? Will Schmidt find a new "purpose" or find fulfillment? These are the themes of About Schmidt.
Nicholson will be remembered for a lot of roles. Schmidt may not be his greatest character. There are times where Jack is just being Jack. It's easy to forgive an actor with such an established personality. Mr. Nicholson is vulnerable, funny, poignant, and supremely aware of what the movie is about. Jack brings to life a character who is past his prime (even if Jack isn't).
About Schmidt has been criticized by some for varying from the novel. I have not read the novel. I can only hope the original story contains the hilarious letters composed to Schmidt's "adopted" African child. I won't take the time to explain, but let me just say the movie has an original narrative style.
Among the colorful supporting cast, Kathy Bates "makes waves" with a nude hot-tub scene. I once saw Johnny Carson strip for a TV crowd for a laugh. The difference was that Johnny didn't go "all the way." And, Johnny was in good shape. I appreciated the fact that Bates was willing to do anything for a laugh (while remaining in character). The scene is not gratuitous. I appreciate the fact that About Schmidt was written for adults.
Plot: Man retires. Wife dies. Daughter gets married. Man connects