About Schmidt
***.9 GM
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Kathy Bates, Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney, Howard Hesseman, June Squibb


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If you're a big fan of "Against the Wind" by Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band, or maybe "Magician" by Lou Reed, or if you're just angsting in general about growing older and feeling like you've wasted your time on this earth, this is the feel-bad movie of the year for you.

Jack Nicholson stars as Warren Schmidt, a recently retired insurance agent in Nebraska and all-around sad sack, struggling to deal with his intense depression and listlessness that is multiplied when his wife (Squibb) suddenly dies. His daughter (Davis) is getting married to a nincompoop (Mulroney) and he winds up taking the Winnebago he never wanted to buy and sauntering around the Great Plains to bide his time before the wedding, and try to figure out a way to stop it. Through it all, he vents his innermost frustrations and sadnesses through letters to his impoverished foster child Ndugu, the only person he has left to talk to, and he's only about five years old.

It's really a meditation on the aged, and how much it fucking sucks if you don't feel you've accomplished anything worthwhile in your life, but you don't really have to be old to feel and identify with the dread and misery emanating from Schmidt. It's disheartening, affecting and heavy to watch.

One possible issue worth discussing, though, is that this came across as somewhat of a Hollywood sensibility about what old guys in Nebraska must be thinking about themselves. If they haven't achieved significant social status or fame, they must be miserable old coots that despise their lot in life, whereas a lot of the Midwestern folks can be pretty content with their goofy little lives. Just a small thing I noticed, though, which certainly doesn't discount the film, as I'm sure there are plenty of surly bastards floating around there, too.

Nicholson is great as always, managing to do a pretty good job of taking us away from "Jack" and bringing us into a shitty old guy's life. He's got a bit of "As Good As It Gets" going here, as a guy who seems to be a bit "off," but not nearly so obviously. He's repressed, uncertain, cranky, guilty, angst-ridden and feeling pretty damn worthless, and it makes you feel wretched about every time you rush through a conversation with your relatives because you've got shit to do. The closer you get to death, the more I'd guess you want to spend time with those you love in life, but those people don't always make it easy, because they ain't as close to death as you are, y'know? Ain't got their priorities straight yet.

Kathy Bates also gives a brave performance as the free-wheeling mother of the groom, and it takes some guts to do this kind of nude scene. I know I wouldn't have the grapefruits to attempt something like that. Hope Davis also creates an interesting portrayal of someone that hasn't quite realized that they're probably settling for someone not quite up to snuff simply out of a quiet desperation and uncertainty, and Dermot Mulroney plays an affable guy full of good intentions and faulty executions perfectly.

This is really Jack's movie, though, and he carries it with a vulnerability we rarely see out of him. And goddamn, is this film depressing. Let's all hope we have at least one thing in the world that is better off because we existed.

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