Reviewed November 25th, 2003 by Brian White
Conservative, Middle America was referred to as a “Silent Majority.” About Schmidt is perhaps the dying gasp of that generation, or a grand satire of it. Schmidt shows the changing of the guard in a sense. He is yesterday’s man trying to live in a new world.
While not silent, Warren R. Schmidt is very quiet, understated and conservative. His life is a certain way. He has played the game by the rules, and expects the world to follow suit. He has grown anxious about his retirement and his life in general. He asks himself when his wife turned into this “old woman.” He is concerned about his daughter preparing to marry a man of whom he does not approve. At this point, he signs up to contribute money to a poor child in Africa. The narrative of the film takes the form of Schmidt’s letters to his foster child.
At times, the humor in About Schmidt is very subtle. At other times, it is a little more extreme, but never over the top or out of the bounds of the narrative. The comedy in this film relies on Schmidt’s reactions to the world around him. Of course, he is put in ridiculous situations, and you can laugh at his interpretation or spin while describing his experiences to Ngudu in Africa. Like many films before it, About Schmidt gains power from the fact that the comedy is at all times on the edge of tragedy.
Schmidt is torn from his comfort zone by a tragedy. This inspires him to go out into the world, where he just does not fit in anymore. Schmidt is dropped into the very colorful and dynamic world of his future son in law Randall Hertzel (the hilarious Dermot Mulroney). The Hertzels are everything that Schmidt is not. They are emotional, they are loud, they are not as financially sound, they are tacky. Cathy Bates’ performance is key to selling us on the Hertzels.
Ultimately, none of this would work without Jack Nicholson’s brilliant performance as Schmidt. There is subtleness to this performance that I did not think he had as an actor. Everything bounces off of him, and he maintains this delicate balance of comedy and tragedy very well. Has he ever played an old man before?
The 1.85:1, anamorphic transfer on the disc is lovely. The cinematography is very interesting. Often, director Alexander Payne (or his cinematographer) will take almost iconic establishing shots of cities or locals. The footage on the highway is quite nice as well. Much thought is given to shot composition, and this all looks very good on the DVD.
The disc boasts both a DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. While the music certainly fills the low end, there is no real need for your surrounds on this one. Nearly everything is toward the front, and in keeping with the dialogue-driven nature of the film.
For extras, there are a number of deletes scenes with introductions by Payne. Also included are a number of bits for the beginning of the film. Each is called a “short film” for some reason.
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