Blog Directory CineVerse: About "About Schmidt"

About "About Schmidt"

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Want to see a decidedly different and refreshingly opposite side of Jack Nicholson? Catch "About Schmidt," in which Jack plays a man leading a life of quiet desperation and "without resources," wrote Roger Ebert. Here is our group's take on this film after closer inspection:

Jack Nicholson here is playing against type: instead of being a rebel, rascal or dramatically complex antihero, he’s playing in unglamorous old man who lacks a strong personality and idiosyncratic characteristics. Nicholson also is portraying a reserved man of subtleties who reacts to others as opposed to a more domineering character who makes others react to him.
We know very little about Schmidt the man, and he seems to be an everyday shlub who missed out on opportunities to do something bigger and better with his life. By watching Schmidt interact with and react to his environment, we slowly got a better idea of what makes him tick and his shortcomings.
This is a motion picture that has the veneer and marketing push of a comedy, but actually is imbued with many tragic and melancholy elements; despite the melancholy, the final scene uplifts the viewer, provides hope, and makes us care about what we just watched for two hours.
Schmidt’s redemption, ultimately, isn’t necessarily a life-changing event or overwhelmingly cathartic dĂ©nouement – instead, it’s a small, subtle thing reflected in his reaction to the response letter and drawing from Ndugu. We realize, as he does, that he has had a positive effect – even if it’s a small one – on another life.
This isn’t a showy “pay attention to the director” type of film with bold visual flourishes, daring camera moves, edgy edits or hip stylistic choices; instead, it adopts a simple and straightforward approach that lets Nicholson do the heavy lifting with even the merest of facial expressions and simplest of gestures.
At first glance, it may seem as if the filmmakers are overtly critical of and mercilessly satirizing these characters, as if they were Midwestern stereotypes deserving of mockery: consider how the new son-in-law and his mother are depicted as well as Schmidt himself. But after spending a little time with each of these characters, we realize that they are more well-rounded and well-intentioned than perhaps we first thought.
There isn’t much of a plot here – more of an existential crisis for one primary character that drives the narrative. Writer Leo Biga posited that Schmidt faces 4 major challenges: “struggling to come to terms with the death of his longtime wife; the uneasy gulf between he and his daughter; his dislike of his daughter’s fiancĂ©; and the sense that everything he’s built his life around his somehow false.” Add to that a feeling of emptiness upon being pushed out of his job and reckoning with his legacy, if he even has one to leave behind.

Time is fleeting: we see many close-ups of clocks and references to time and timepieces.
Life’s challenges as plagues upon our existence: consider the address of Schmidt’s childhood residence – 12 Locust Avenue.
Being a beast of burden sent off to the slaughter: recall the restaurant with its images of championship steers covering the walls; the cattle truck that pulls up next to Schmidt on the road; the shots of meat being cut up; the cows shown in the field; the mention of “beef stew” and “cold cuts”; and the oxen figures at the museum.
The harsh reality that comes when you realize that your beliefs and instincts were wrong. Schmidt comes to acknowledge that he took his wife for granted and truly misses her; that he never really understood his daughter, nor can he control her life; and that the work he did for his employer is ultimately dispensable and insignificant.
Dealing with loss. The director was quoted as saying: “What interested me originally was the idea of taking all the man’s institutions away from him. Career. Marriage. Daughter. It’s about him realizing his mistakes and not being able to do anything about them and also seeing his structures stripped away. It’s about subtly learning that everything you believe is wrong – everything. It asks, ‘Who is a man? Who are we, really?’”
Survival of the fittest: recall the placard at the museum, which states that the weak died off while the strong survived; “they were the pioneers.” Schmidt doesn’t feel like he’s made any significant difference in his life, but the truth is that he survived the dying of his spouse. Perhaps he has a chance to be a pioneer of sorts or effect some kind of notable change on others with his remaining years.

The Descendants

Road trips
“Journeys of self-discovery,” suggests critic Emmanuelle Levy
Seemingly mundane lives and existences that are transformed or redeemed in some way.
An offscreen female character who becomes the catalyst for one or more males taking a personal and literal journey, as in The Descendants, About Schmidt, and Sideways.
Omaha is often the backdrop, as evidenced in Citizen Ruth, Election and this film.

The Visitor
The Straight Story
Grand Torino
Wild Strawberries
The social satires films of Preston Sturges, as well as the sentimental redemption stories filmed by Frank Capra

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