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Movie Review: About Schmidt

Story: What's a guy to do when he retires, is pretty much alone and has no hopes or dreams? How does a road trip to self-discovery in a Winnebago going from Omaha to Denver sound to you? Well, our protagonist, Warren Schmidt is faced with this dilemma and takes to the road. This film opens in three weeks and will most likely be marketed as a comedy - which it is not. Hollywood has a way of promoting the few funny scenes of a film and gets an audience in on false pretenses. Be warned - this is not a comedy. There are some very funny moments but it is a dark, slice of life view of middle America.

The directing - writing team of Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor that brought us the fabulous film, Election a few years back has returned with another view of the Heartland through the sad, bereft eyes of Warren Schmidt. Schmidt is looking for meaning in his life. But his view of the world is cloudy and dark and this allows little sunshine into his soul. While everyone around him seems to function in their own world, he has tremendous difficulty connecting to anyone or anything.

The story would not go anywhere had they not used Schmidt's voice-over as he writes his most intimate thoughts and feelings to a 6 year old Tanzanian boy when he sends his $22 monthly support check. (see 'nit-picking' below).

This film, while flawed, is worth your time, not only for the acting, but for the terrific detail that is seen throughout the homes and in the wonderful characters we meet along the way.

Acting: The casting was right on the money. This writing - directing team likes to use 'hometown' folks as extras and it works perfectly. Jack Nicholson is a larger than life actor and it always take a while for me to forget his persona and appreciate his acting. He was terrific. Kathy Bates blows me away with her on-screen presence. When she is in view everyone else just fades into the background. Hope Davis (Arlington Road) is great as Schmidt's daughter and Dermot Mulroney (Where the Money is) shines as the mullet haired future son-in-law. The rest of the supporting cast is fabulous as well.

Critters: Some sad looking bovines on their way to someone's dinner plate.

Food: Lots and lots of food in this 'heartland' film. Beef, broccoli, potato chips, ham sandwiches, oodles of frozen food and some very funny food stuff going round and round on a pu-pu platter type vehicle.

Visual Art: Funny, funny female paintings and some nondescript prints.

Blatant Product Placement: Childreach, Tony Roma's, Dairy Queen and a huge plug for Winnebago.

Soundtrack: Funny.

Opening Titles: Uninspiring - but perhaps that was the point.

Theater Audience: I went to a preview screening in the Brill Building in Times Square. Very cushy, comfortable seats (but I was the only one in my group who liked them). FYI - the Brill Building was important during the heyday of tin pan alley and the 1950s rock n roll days. The small offices used to be filled with young musicians (think Carol King and Neil Sedaka) banging out their hits day in and day out. You could almost hear the echoes of some of those wonderful tunes filtering through the hallways.

Predictability Level: Moderate

Oscar Worthy: I don't think so...but I am willing to bet that Nicholson gets yet another nomination.

Nit Picking: Editing, editing, editing. The adage, 'less is more' should be tattooed on very editor's forehead. I also HATE when voice-overs are used instead of good storytelling.

Big Screen or Rental: Oh, why not the big screen? There are some wonderful moments that would be missed as a rental. For some other terrific Kathy Bates films, how about renting: Primary Colors, Dolores Claiborne, Fried Green Tomatoes and the most wonderful, Misery. My favorite Jack Nicholson films are: The Pledge, Wolf, Hoffa, A Few Good Men, Prizzi's Honor, The Border, Reds, The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Shining, Goin' South, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Chinatown, and Five Easy Pieces.

Length: 4 minutes over the 2 hour LOBO rule.