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About Schmidt ***
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Starring Jack Nicholson, Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney
Directed by Alexander Payne


     "Retired Life: The Movie" was something I didn't really ever expect to see.  It's hard to get a movie about retired people made in Hollywood.  It's hard to get a movie about anything made in Hollywood.  I guess, these rules don't apply when you try to get a movie "About Schmidt" made.
     Containing one of the more hullabalooed performances in recent years, "About Schmidt" is...about Schmidt.  Warren Schmidt is a recent retiree from the insurance business (a career full of adventures and conflict, I'm sure).  The film opens on a sour pussed Jack Nicholson staring at a clock in a nearly empty room.  His eyes follow the minute hand as it inches towards the end of his day and career at his job.  
     He goes to a retirement party where his successor toasts him with a commercial for his new plan for the department.  He heads home with his wife, an old nag who drives him up the wall with her little peccadilloes.
     When he gets up the next morning (at 7:00 out of habit), he finds himself bored with retired life with no real joy set on the horizon. 
     When his wife dies unexpectedly, his slightly pampered life careens towards upheaval.  His wife, who served Schmidt as loving wife/housekeeper/cook, isn't there to do the things he hasn't done on his own for roughly four decades.  We watch as he struggles to keep himself together.  He begins to long for a real relationship with his daughter, who is set to marry the mulleted Randall (Dermot Mulroney).  Scmidt sees his daughter getting ready to throw her life away, and he makes it his mission to get her to reconsider.
     Along the journey into widowhood and retirement, he tries to find the purpose for his life, what has made him matter.  He yearns to be the one someone else depends on.
     The film does contain a remarkable performance from Jack Nicholson in which he drops all the "Jackness" we have come to suspect from him.  He is a sad, broken man.  He holds none of the fire his more famous characters have relied on.  Instead, Schmidt is characterized by his comments he makes to an adopted child in another country through a service he saw on a commercial narrated by Angela Lansbury.  His letters to the child, Ngudu, ("Dear Ngudu..." is an immensely entertaining line ever time I hear it, mostly due to the absurdity of hearing Nicholson say it), prove to be a doorway into the soul of the man.  He vents profusely about his wife and the banality of his life, and quite humorously, I must add.  We learn that his daughter, Jeanie (the fantastic Hope Davis), is the light of his life.  We learn he desires structure, though he continuously relies on his impulsive nature after his wife dies.
     "About Schmidt" has a way of bringing the absurdity of most social situations into the forefront of the audience's attention.  Most of the true laughs are at the awkward moments Schmidt finds himself in.
    While the film is labled a dark comedy, and is ultimately uplifting, it proves to be heavier on the dark than the comedy.  The film is sad in a very natural way.  I found myself empathizing with Schmidt more than laughing at him.  This isn't a detraction; the movie just isn't "hilarious" as the critic's quote says on the commercials and box for the film.
     The film does have some laugh out loud moments, capitalized in a scene that had me cackling with no regard for my fellow movie viewer (my brother, so what the hey?).
     Nicholson gives a wonderfully understated performance that is infinitely likable.  He bears such a distinctive frown for most of the film that when he finally smiles, it does tug the heartstrings a tad.
     Hope Davis, an unsung character actor, gives a wholly natural turn as Schmidt's daughter.  She flies through the emotions that all men have noted women flying through before, but she does this with utter honesty.  She rises and falls with her character's conflicts and joys.  It a nicely nuanced performance.
     What does detract from the film is the unadventurous adventures Schmidt goes on.  His life and the scenes depicting it can be quite dull at times.  While I never stopped caring about what was going to happen to Schmidt, I just wished it could have happened to him with a little more comic flair that the commercials seem to champion.

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