Jack Nicholson is Warren Schmidt, an old dude who goes on a road trip after his wife's death in order to stop his daughter from getting married to a loser, occasionally he writes inappropriate letters to an African child he's never met.
Yes, I know, it doesn't sound like THE story of our time but don't be fooled, About Schmidt is one of director Alexander Payne's best and boasts one of Nicholson's best performances. For one thing he's not grinning, laughing maniacally or generally being a nutjob so against-type? I think so. His Warren is an imperfect man of contradictions: mild-mannered and very much an introvert, he's always deep in thought yet doesn't seem to think things through completely, prone to adapting to a certain routine yet impulsive, sweet but a bit tight with his money and occasionally pretty selfish. He's a man of few words but a hell of a lot is going on in his head whether it's complaints about his wife's little annoying tendencies or his growing fear of dying having achieved nothing substantial.
Whatever it is, his foster kid Ndugu is reading all about it or receiving the letters at least...
Indeed, before embarking on his ambitious trip across America in his late wife's giant motorhome Warren becomes fosterdad to a child in Africa which would be a pretty corny turn of events if it weren't for him unloading all his grown-up worries in long-winded, sharply written letters which he sends to Ndugu along with a $20 cheque every month. As if the young kid, whom we learn can neither read nor write, could ever relate to Warren's anxieties about retiring, peeing sitting down or sleeping in a waterbed.
On the surface, About Schmidt is a sweet, light-hearted comedy about a quirky old man having a past-mid-life crisis and getting into all kinds of awkwardly funny adventures. But there's more to it than that. Through Warren, Alexander Payne explores universal fears and creates a completely identifiable character we genuinely want to see get his way, despite his flawed personality. But Payne keeps things down to Earth, showing once again that the saddest things are usually the simplest and finds a heart-breaking core to the whole thing which will make it hard for any viewer to make it through to the end without pretending not to cry while actually weeping inside.
Overall, while not quite as perfect as Sideways, About Schmidt remains one of Alexander Payne's best films to date and I would definitely recommend it. Funny, clever, touching: it's a little film but a good one.
Those not particularly up for seeing Kathy Bates naked or Jack Nicholson's bare ass might want to give it a miss though...