Nicholson remarkable in 'Schmidt'

From left, Dermot Mulroney, Hope Davis and Jack Nicholson star in Alexander Payne's "About Schmidt," opening today.

New Line Cinema
Published: Friday, January 3, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 3, 2003 at 1:27 a.m.
This is what we know about Warren Schmidt: He just retired after four decades as an actuary at Woodmen of the World Insurance Co. in Omaha, Neb.
He's been married 42 years to his sweet but frumpy wife, Helen. And his only child, Jeannie, is marrying a mullet-wearing waterbed salesman named Randall.
This is about all Warren knows about himself, too; he's never really cared to find out more. But at 66, he gets a crash course in self-discovery in "About Schmidt."
Such a simple story may not sound like the natural basis for one of the year's best movies. But it is - not just for Jack Nicholson's understated performance, which is among the most memorable and surprising in a career full of memories and surprises.
And not just for the keenly observant script from writer-director Alexander Payne.
Every piece fits together perfectly, from the tiniest details in wardrobe to the supporting performances from scene-stealers Dermot Mulroney and Kathy Bates. Payne paints a picture of Middle America that's lovingly satirical.
Warren simply occupies space, counting down the minutes until retirement in his sparse, lifeless office, and sitting quietly in a banquet room as his colleagues honor him. Whether by himself or in a crowd, Warren is always hopelessly alone.
Suddenly, Helen dies, and Warren is shaken from his numbing routine. After moping for weeks - seemingly because no one's there to take care of him - he lumbers into the Winnebago he and Helen had planned to use for road trips. His destination is Denver, where he hopes to persuade Jeannie to call off her wedding to Randall (Mulroney).
Once in Denver, nothing goes as Warren planned - and he certainly didn't expect to end up in a hot tub with Roberta (Bates), Randall's bohemian mother.
Nicholson has been lavished with praise for the performance, and deservedly so. Gone are the wild hair, raised eyebrows and impish grin that have become his trademarks. He has gone small to become Warren Schmidt, and it produced big results. It may just be the performance of the year, and it should earn him his 12th Oscar nomination.
Nicholson himself said it best after a screening of "About Schmidt" at the New York Film Festival, where it was this year's opening film: "I found it interesting that this guy who has a mathematical depth about life ... really seems to understand nothing about his own life."
By the movie's subtly moving conclusion, he may not have it all figured out, but he takes the first step in his journey.

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