Warren Schmidt (Nicholson) is a resolutely normal guy who has given his whole life to working for an insurance company in Omaha. On the day of his retirement, his future yawns in front of him like a vast empty void; how can he get very excited about spending his remaining years rattling around a gigantic Winnebago with his doting wife (Squibb), while his daughter (Davis) is about to marry a goofball (Mulroney)? And before he even has a chance to get used to the idea, everything changes and he goes on an odyssey that forces him to confront his past and future ... and everyone around him.
The film has such a profoundly personal feel to it that it takes the breath away, pulling us into Warren's mind and slowly revealing themes and ideas without ever beating us over the head with them. This is fiercely clever filmmaking on every level--the writing and direction are subtle and revelatory. And the same can be said for Nicholson's performance; his usual larger-than-life persona is completely gone here! This is merely a shattered, struggling, 66-year-old man who hasn't quite given up yet. As he describes his life in letters to his sponsored African child Ndugu, we get the feeling that he's facing himself honestly for perhaps the first time ever. Far from being a typical movie voiceover, this actually adds nuance and insight to the film.
Meanwhile, we get superb support from Davis (the daughter struggling with being both ignored and controlled by her dad), Mulroney (the nincompoop with a heart of gold) and of course Bates (as his frighteningly frank earth mother). There's a lot going on here--from the up-close examination of this one man on the verge of oblivion to a razor-sharp satire of the over-familiarity of American culture. And there are also universal themes about how we spend our lives, where we set our priorities and who we give importance to. These are the ideas that haunt us long after the prickly comedy has faded.
dir Alexander Payne
scr Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
with Jack Nicholson, Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney, Kathy Bates, June Squibb, Howard Hesseman, Len Cariou, Cheryl Hamada, Mark Venhuizen, Matt Winston, Harry Groener, Connie Ray
release US 13.Dec.02; UK 24.Jan.03
Waiting room. Warren sees his daughter and future son-in-law off (Mulroney, Davis, Nicholson)...
Laurie T, Minneapolis: "Warren Schmidt (Nicholson) is retiring - in the opening scene he's sitting in an empty office, watching the clock turn to exactly 5pm - at that exact moment he is done. Right away, this tells you the kind of person he is - a rigid, strict, by-the-rules kind of guy. Then a big retirement party with his wife at his side. With all this time on his hands, he notices this Christian Children's fund and keeps hearing how just $22 a month can feed a child and you can make a difference. He ends up writing to Ndugu each month, telling this unknown child his woes and about his life - which is a neat way to give a background into the story. He ends up losing his wife and embarks on a journey in the motorhome they had bought for their retirement. I liked this movie and felt that there is a message here. Warren does not appreciate what he had: His wife took care of him and is suddenly gone; he never spent time with his daughter (Davis), and now learns she does not want to be around him. It was kind of cool to watch him literally and figuratively go on this journey - and he ends up feeling like his life was not really worthwhile afterall. This is a neat movie - hopefully people will look at their lives and realize you should appreciate what you have, or you may end up losing it. Go see it." (21.Jan.03)
Gawain McLachlan, Filmnet, Melbourne: "Jack Nicholson plays a grumpy widowed retiree on route to his daughter's wedding. Slow moving, often amusing Nicholson vehicle that is all too realistic!" (14.Mar.03)
youwish, Omaha: "This movie is one of my all time favorites; the last scene of the movie really portrays how well Nicholson can act and in turn convey such mood and meaning. Film classes around the states should include this film for depicting the various elements of film while conveying mood and theme. I've never watched a Nicholson movie I haven't loved!" (18.Apr.07)