Published Dec 01, 2002In About Schmidt, Jack Nicholson gives the subtlest performance of his career to date as Warren Schmidt, an aging company man whose life begins to unravel after his retirement from the insurance business. Finding himself alone for the first time in his life, Schmidt skirts a complete breakdown by embarking on a soul searching road trip on the way to his daughter's (Hope Davis) wedding to a man he views as beneath her (Dermot Mulroney). The film chronicles Schmidt's painful realisation that his life has essentially been a meaningless failure and shows his stumbling attempts at some sort of redemption.
Writer/director Alexander Payne (Election) crafts an honest and surprisingly deep exploration of this man's existential despair while managing to maintain a sense of humour throughout. The film's easy pace, focus on looking back at one's life, and its road trip across prairie states make it sometimes reminiscent of David Lynch's The Straight Story. In both films, the actor in the title role carries the complete weight of the story and its impact on his shoulders, and Nicholson here does an exceptional job. It's really great to see him playing his age and not resorting to the usual tricks that often threaten to make him a caricature of his younger self. In sharp contrast, this performance is incredibly subdued as he couples his character's familiar fatherly stubbornness with moments of amazing vulnerability. The supporting cast are uniformly excellent as well, with Mulroney's hapless fiancé character and his aging hippie mother (played by the wonderful Kathy Bates) providing much of the film's comic base.