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About Schmidt

August 23, 2010

About Schmidt (2002)
Director: Alexander Payne
Actors: Jack Nicholson, Hope Davis, Kathy Bates

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Synopsis: Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) retires after a long and steady career in insurance. The tragicomic events that occur thereafter force Schmidt into a more discomforting retirement than he might have imagined….

Review: About Schmidt marked the evolution of Alexander Payne’s directorial voice as he began to negotiate his way from the caustic, one-dimensional satire of Election to his later autumnal masterpiece Sideways. At times About Schmidt is probably a little too dry and rhetorical for its own good – lacking the generosity of characterisation in Sideways – with the drama playing out pre-determinedly on its way to the “cathartic” ending of Jack Nicholson’s title character. Despite that, there’s a lot to commend About Schmidt for, particularly in its stand as a bleak and sardonic attack on Middle American values. Payne conceives the canvas of Schmidt’s life as a perpetual palette of greys and muted blues as he moves from the office block where he’s been working in insurance for the last forty years to a road-trip along some of America’s duller scenery in the states of Nebraska and Colorado.

Although slightly unsubtle, two of the most telling and prescient images of About Schmidt (and those which echo similar ideas from Election and Sideways) concern Schmidt’s journey to his hometown only to find his childhood home built over by a tyre warehouse, and later when a site commemorating “trailblazing pioneers” has been turned into an amusement-park style museum, full of obese, baseball-cap wearing Middle Americans like Schmidt himself. (December 2007)

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