Nicholson’s latest elicits laughter – and dread
I imagine Hollywood will become only more obsessed with stories of Baby Boomers growing older, as the wrinkling faces behind tinsel town use their film medium to reflect upon the meaning – and lack thereof – of their lives. “About Schmidt” is the latest, artfully told movie about mid- or later-life crises.
Unlike Lester Burnham in “American Beauty,” Warren Schmidt (actor Jack Nicholson) doesn’t rebel against his life of quiet desperation in a pubescent explosion of fast cars and young women. Instead, he drives his 36-foot Winnebago Adventurer across long stretches of flat highways from Omaha, Neb., to Denver in an attempt to stop his daughter’s wedding.
“Schmidt’s” opening scene – watching seconds tick down to a 5 p.m. retirement – foreshadows the plot’s slow pace. Though the 124-minute movie seems long, it matches Schmidt’s slowly emptying life.
“About Schmidt” isn’t a comedy, but it elicits chuckles throughout. The older the audience members, the more laughs it may bring out, because of life experience. Had I watched it in my late teens or early 20s, I would have dreaded growing old.
But, having witnessed life-after-a-30-plus-year-career when my dad retired, I could only laugh at the parallels between Schmidt’s retirement and my dad’s – both men cautiously encountered wives who – bubbling with ecstatic expectation of the new adventures ahead – expected their mourning husbands to match the joy they found in their new RVs.
Jack Nicholson carries “About Schmidt,” which at times plays out like a one-man show. The restraint of his usual evil grin or impishly raised eyebrow add a layer of suspense – surely Schmidt would have loved to break into Nicholson’s wild ways. But Nicholson confined his outbursts, only allowing Schmidt to write confessional letters to Ndugu, a child he sponsors in Tanzania, and eventually allowing him to stand like a man while urinating, instead of following his wife’s orders to sit on the seat.
I had difficulty buying June Squibb as Schmidt’s wife, because Hollywood has successfully trained me to expect Nicholson with younger women. The change works well though, as even Schmidt asks himself, “Who is this old woman lying in bed with me?”
Another refreshing detour from Hollywood’s standard came with the disrobing of Kathy Bates’ voluptuous body – though the scene may have scarred Dan for life.
While Dan walked away from the movie mumbling something about going home and shooting himself, after some reflection, I decided the movie deeply affirmed life. (I probably should have called and told him so – luckily, he showed up to work Monday morning unscathed.)
Schmidt essentially loses every familiarity in his life, but one spark of hope keeps him going. The movie speaks to the power of the life force – when one form of life disappears (as in a job or relationship), another appears, continuing the mysterious cycle of life.
Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 245 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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