About Schmidt is a 2002 American comedy-drama film written and directed by Alexander Payne, produced by Michael Besman, Harry Gittes and Rachael Horovitz, co-written by Jim Taylor with music by Rolfe Kent and starring Jack Nicholson in the title role. The film also stars Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney and Kathy Bates. It is very loosely based on the 1996 novel of the same title by Louis Begley. About Schmidt was theatrically released on December 13, 2002 by New Line Cinema. The film was both a commercial and a critical success and it earned $105,834,556 on a $30 million budget. About Schmidt was released on DVD and VHS formats. It was released on Blu-ray for the first time on February 3, 2015.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Alexander Payne|
|Produced by||Michael Besman|
|Based on||About Schmidt|
by Louis Begley
|Music by||Rolfe Kent|
|Edited by||Kevin Tent|
|Distributed by||New Line Cinema|
|Box office||$105.8 million|
Warren Schmidt is retiring from his position as an actuary with Woodmen of the World, a life insurance company in Omaha, Nebraska. After a retirement dinner, Schmidt finds it hard to adjust to his new life, feeling useless. He sees a television advertisement about a foster program for African children, Plan USA, and decides to sponsor a child. He soon receives an information package with a photo of his foster child, a small Tanzanian boy named Ndugu Umbo, to whom he relates his life in a series of candid, rambling letters.
Schmidt visits his young successor at the life insurance company to offer his help, but the offer is politely declined. As he leaves the building, Schmidt sees the contents and files of his office, the sum of his entire career, set out for garbage collectors.
He describes to Ndugu his longtime alienation from Helen, his wife, who suddenly dies from a blood clot in her brain just after their purchase of a Winnebago Adventurer motor home. Jeannie, his only daughter, and her fiancé Randall Hertzel arrive from Denver. They console him at the funeral, but Jeannie later berates him for taking his wife for granted, such as by refusing to fully pay for the Winnebago (he wanted the cheaper Minnie Winnie) and burying her in a cheap casket. He asks her to move back to take care of him, but she refuses. Meanwhile, Randall tries to entice him into a pyramid scheme.
Schmidt feels his daughter could do better than Randall, a waterbed salesman. After the couple leaves, Schmidt is overcome by loneliness. He stops showering, sleeps in front of the television, and goes shopping with a coat over pajamas to load up on frozen foods. In his wife's closet he discovers some hidden love letters disclosing her long-ago affair with Ray, a mutual friend, whom Schmidt angrily confronts.
He decides to take a journey alone in his new Winnebago to visit his daughter and convince her not to marry Randall. He tells Jeannie he is leaving early for the wedding, but she makes it clear she does not want him there until right before the ceremony. Schmidt decides to visit places from his past, including his college campus and fraternity at University of Kansas and his hometown in Nebraska. His childhood home has been replaced by a tire shop. While at a trailer campground, he is invited to dinner by a friendly and sympathetic couple. When the man leaves to buy some beer, Schmidt makes a pass at the wife, and flees in terror when she adamantly rejects his advance.
Sitting on the roof of his RV on a starry night, Schmidt forgives his departed wife for her affair and apologizes to her for his own failings as a husband. At that moment, he is amazed to see a bright meteor streak across the sky as a possible sign from Helen that she forgives him.
Feeling full of purpose and energetic renewal, Schmidt arrives in Denver, where he stays at the home of Roberta, Randall's mother. He is appalled by Randall's eccentric, socially odd family and tries unsuccessfully to dissuade Jeannie from the marriage. Schmidt throws out his back after sleeping on Randall's waterbed, infuriating Jeannie. Roberta assures Schmidt that a soak in her hot tub will help his back, but he flees after a nude Roberta makes a pass at him in the tub. The next day, Schmidt, under the influence of Percodan to soothe his back pain, attends the wedding and delivers a kind speech at the reception, hiding his disapproval.
On his way home from Denver, Schmidt composes a letter to Ndugu. Schmidt questions what he has accomplished in life, lamenting that he will soon be dead, that his life has made no difference to anyone, and that eventually it will be as if he has never existed at all.
A pile of mail is waiting for him at home. Schmidt opens a letter from Tanzania. It is from a nun, who writes that Ndugu is six years old and unable to read and reply to Schmidt's letters on his own, but appreciates them and Schmidt's financial support very much. A crayon drawing by Ndugu is enclosed, showing two smiling stick figures, one large and one small, holding hands on a sunny day. Schmidt is moved to tears as the film ends.
- Jack Nicholson as Warren R. Schmidt
- Kathy Bates as Roberta Hertzel
- Hope Davis as Jeannie Schmidt
- Dermot Mulroney as Randall Hertzel
- June Squibb as Helen Schmidt
- Howard Hesseman as Larry Hertzel
- Harry Groener as John Rusk
- Connie Ray as Vicki Rusk
- Len Cariou as Ray Nichols
- Phil Reeves as Minister in Denver
Payne's script to About Schmidt was initially an original screenplay written years before Begley's novel was published. According to Payne, his script was about "an old guy who retires, and realizes how much he’s wasted his life, and wants somehow to start anew— The Graduate at age sixty-five." Payne completed the script in 1991 and offered it to Universal Pictures, but the studio rejected it. Following the publication of Begley's novel in 1996, Payne decided to combine his script with the plot of the novel, thus making it an adaptation.
Filming took place for two months in several Nebraska cities, including Omaha, Nebraska City, Minden, Kearney, and Lincoln. Omaha was chosen, because it was where Alexander Payne grew up. Filming concluded in May 2001.
In the United States, the film grossed $8,533,162 on its opening weekend. Its total U.S. box office gross stands at $65,010,106, while total worldwide gross totals $105,834,556.
Critical response Edit
About Schmidt drew praise from a number of critics, who singled out the performances of Jack Nicholson and Kathy Bates. Film website Rotten Tomatoes reported an approval rating of 85% based on 201 reviews, with an average rating of 7.7/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "In this funny, touching character study, Nicholson gives one of the best performances of his career." On Metacritic, which assigns a rating to reviews, the film has a weighted average score of 85 out of 100, based on 40 critics, indicating "universal acclaim". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.
Roger Ebert wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times that About Schmidt "is essentially a portrait of a man without qualities, baffled by the emotions and needs of others. That Jack Nicholson makes this man so watchable is a tribute not only to his craft, but to his legend: Jack is so unlike Schmidt that his performance generates a certain awe. Another actor might have made the character too tragic or passive or empty, but Nicholson somehow finds within Schmidt a slowly developing hunger, a desire to start living now that the time is almost gone." Michael Rechtshaffen of The Hollywood Reporter wrote: "It's a commanding Jack Nicholson lead performance that puts it into a sublime league of its own." Paul Clinton of CNN.com wrote: "About Schmidt is undoubtedly one of the finest films of the year. If you're not deeply touched by this movie, check your pulse."
At the 75th Academy Awards, both Nicholson and Bates were nominated for their performances as Best Actor in a Leading Role and Best Actress in a Supporting Role. The film found more success at the 60th Golden Globe Awards, winning the awards for Best Screenplay – Motion Picture and Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama. Upon accepting his award, Nicholson stated, "I'm a little surprised. I thought we made a comedy."
Home media Edit
About Schmidt was released on DVD and VHS formats. It was released on Blu-ray for the first time on February 3, 2015.
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- "About Schmidt Reviews - Metacritic". Metacritic. Retrieved October 14, 2013.
- "About Schmidt – CinemaScore". CinemaScore. Retrieved April 16, 2018.
- Ebert, Roger (20 December 2002). "About Schmidt". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 4 November 2011.
- "Review: 'About Schmidt' a triumph" Archived February 21, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, By Paul Clinton CNN, Friday, December 13, 2002. Retrieved Nov 12, 2012.
- "Festival de Cannes: About Schmidt". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-10-24.