Dear Ndugu,

About Schmidt is amazing. I loved Election, but this is far better; Alexander Payne has whittled his dark comedy of americana to a razor’s edge. A brilliant, understated performance by Jack Nicholson doesn’t hurt, either.

I’m sure Tom has some nuthouse art flick he’s picked as Best Film of 2003 already. Whatever. About Schmidt is the best film of 2003 so far.

It’s only playing at two out of the way theaters here in the Research Triangle, NC area, so it was kind of a pain to go see. We went to the 4:15 matinee showing, and I’ve never seen so many… uh, elderly people in a theater since I don’t know when. I joked about it before we arrived at the theater, but when we arrived and the four people in front of us all asked for senior discount tickets, we weren’t laughing any more. Guess this movie has that sizzling “depressing movie that only appeals to old people” appeal that marketing suits just can’t get enough of.

My problem with About Schmidt – and someone else jump in here because god knows I’m not looking forward to going back and forth with a guy who thought Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was no good because flying people are unrealistic, not to mention a guy with crazy ideas about how Hedwig and the Angry Inch is the same as Rushmore* – is that it lacked any of the bite Alexander Payne had in Election. And, I presume, Citizen Ruth, which I haven’t seen.

It’s ultimately a pretty toothless movie with another great Jack performance and a memorable contribution from Kathy Bates.

 -Tom
  • That guy is wumpus.

You’re on your own.

Why waste time arguing with someone who say… criticizes your site for writing Avault-like reviews, when he used to write for said site? :D

Enjoy your joust with the dragon, Don Quixote.

Exactly what kind of bite are you looking for Tom? Is Payne’s whithering portrayal of middle America as mainly a bunch of mullet wearing, uncultured, gap-toothed, mouth-breathing, Hummel-figurine-buying, beer swilling, MilkBone dog biscuits on the dinner table, witless slobs not enough of an “edge” for you? Or howabout the bittersweet ending where the clueless woodman (here’s a check for you Ndugu, I’m sure you want to cash it and grab a bite to eat) comes to realize that he has never really lived life and now his life is pretty much over.

One of the reasons I have trouble with Alexander Payne, and his bottom-of-the-irony-chumbucket chum Todd Solondz, is that he enjoys torturing his characters much in the way I used bottle rockets and jumping jacks to deform GI Joe action figures as a kid. I was fully expecting that letter at the end of About Schmidt to be all of a his letters to Ndugu returned unopened with a note from the nun saying Ndugu died of dysentery last fall. That one last kick in the balls to his protagonist would have been perfectly in line with Election and Citizen Ruth.

As it stands, the fact that the film ends on a bittersweet note and doesn’t decide to twist the dagger in Schmidt’s side is a hopeful sign that maybe Payne isn’t the irredeemable misanthrope his two previous films made him out to be.

Also, the fact that Child Reach and Ndugu are both real (although Ndugu is not his real name) is another hopeful sign. The producers could have made up a fictional outreach group, but maybe this way Child Reach will get a sudden influx of cash from insecure retirerees, or anyone else for that matter.

Or howabout the bittersweet ending where the clueless woodman (here’s a check for you Ndugu, I’m sure you want to cash it and grab a bite to eat) comes to realize that he has never really lived life and now his life is pretty much over.

This was my interpretation as well. Tears of pain, not joy. My wife had a slightly more positive spin on that last scene: that perhaps having someone-- anyone-- directly acknowledge that you’ve had some kind of effect on their life is cathartic.

It’s ultimately a pretty toothless movie

I thought it was downright brutal. Let me tell you, Ndugu, those American Indians, they got a raw deal. Just a raw deal.

criticizes your site for writing Avault-like reviews, when he used to write for said site?

I’m fairly sure I’ve never characterized FiringSquad reviews that way. Do you have a quote that proves otherwise? I did criticize the site for belatedly noticing Counter-Strike near the time Diablo II was released, which I thought was downright negligent for a site implicitly devoted to FPS multiplayer (eg, Thresh).

You forget your own trolls so quickly.

I really can’t be bothered to look for it.

On the other hand, I must defer to the self-styled expert who gives no examples to support his argument. If you say it’s true, Jakub, you must be right-- are you a pro gamer? I mean in addition to your moonlighting writing Adrenaline Vault-esque reviews for FiringSquad.

You misunderstood what I said. I wasn’t criticizing the web site, I was criticizing you. Here’s the thread:

http://www.quartertothree.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=1070&highlight=firingsquad

Now go see About Schmidt, it’s fantastic.

yawn

Anyway, we’ll see. It is tough to pass up a Jack movie.

It’s easy to perceive everything through some sort of intellectualized haze; if that’s how you are, you can either view Payne’s view of midwestern values as comical (which is what the audience I saw it with found most of his little moments and affectations) or insulting.

Or maybe it’s actually heartfelt and realistic, since there are a lot of people exactly like Schmidt. Most of them aren’t making movies in Hollywood, though. Payne is actually from Omaha, if that matters.

I had the “insulting treatment” vibe after seeing The Good Girl, of all movies. I am sorta sick of this notion that suburbia is a soul sucking experience; hell, my family loves the suburbs. Actually, they aspire to living in suburbs again, since where they live sorta sucks nowadays.

Anyway, I sort of agreed with your analysis here until I realized that Schmidt is my dad. My dad lacks any form of self awareness, worked in a crap job for 20+ years which allowed him to live a fairly comfortable lower-middle class existence, he never got much of anywhere (since he didn’t have a college degree), he did work that wasn’t particularly glorious and didn’t change the world, and he and my mom do all of that sort of weird little collecting. And they own a camper. My mom makes awful crafts she sells, which would be funny if put on screen, at least to people who don’t make or buy these same crappy crafts, and it makes her happy. And my dad sits in his chair all day and sleeps (he’s retired) or putters around the garage on his 50s car.

So did Payne need to “torture” Schmidt? In a way, yeah. Obviously it wouldn’t have been much of a movie without conflict, but what exactly would cause him to even think about evaluating his life in any meaningful way? Whether this type of event would cause my own dad to go through the same sorts of weird things is unknown, and hopefully he’ll never know, and I also hope he never sits and thinks, “Shit, I never accomplished anything other than raising an ungrateful son who never visits on holidays.”

I wasn’t necessarily looking for any kind of bite, Jim. But I hardly think Payne’s portrayal of Midwestern white trash as clowns is even remotely close to Election sharp wit and keen satire. Of course, Payne was adapting a completely different writer’s novel this time around. All told, I’m not complaining so much as making an observation.

As for this, assuming you’re talking about the drawing from Africa:

Or howabout the bittersweet ending where the clueless woodman (here’s a check for you Ndugu, I’m sure you want to cash it and grab a bite to eat) comes to realize that he has never really lived life and now his life is pretty much over.

I hate to agree with wumpus, especially in a thread where he’s being an absolute asshole again, but I don’t think that’s the significance of the last scene at all. It’s a Hallmark moment of typically tear-jerking proportion in which I think he appreciates the difference he’s made to Ngudu. It’s as powerful as a moment that cliched can be, and it worked for me (yes, I teared up, but don’t tell anyone), but I don’t think it’s as negative as you’re making it.

I liked About Schmidt just fine. But the script really was the sort of thing you’d see as a made-for-Lifetime movie. Without Nicholson anchoring it, it would have been completely forgettable fluff to me.

BTW, About Schmidt gets huge points from me for the casting of Nicholson’s wife. When she first showed up on screen, sitting next to him at the retirement dinner, I wanted to stand up and pump my fist. Fucking A plus, Alexander Payne, finally someone is casting a celebrity next to Real Actual People As They Really Are Outside of Hollywood! Woo-hoo!

 -Tom

I would certainly agree there. I don’t think About Schmidt was as funny as Election. I guess by “bite” I thought you meant sarcasm, and in that case I see both films as pretty equal.

I agree that this moment is sweet, but I think it is bittersweet because Schmidt is coming back to an empty house from the disasterous wedding where his daughter made it pretty clear that he was barely, if ever, involved in her life. And now he’s made a last, desperate attempt to be involved in someone’s, anyone’s life even if it is a complete stranger on the other side of the planet. He is both touched by Ndugu’s drawing, and crushed the he has done so little so late.

Nonetheless, I regard this as victory for my side as you were forced to admit intellectual bedfellowship with wumpus.

Agreed. In the very first scene where Jack stares at the clock in an empty office my audience just starts cracking up. Hey! There’s Jack in a suit! Hey! He’s got a comb-over! He’s in an office! Har Har! If that role had been played by – I dunno, Cliff Robertson – no one would be talking about this movie.

I hate to agree with wumpus, especially in a thread where he’s being an absolute asshole again, but I don’t think that’s the significance of the last scene at all. It’s a Hallmark moment of typically tear-jerking proportion in which I think he appreciates the difference he’s made to Ngudu. It’s as powerful as a moment that cliched can be, and it worked for me (yes, I teared up, but don’t tell anyone), but I don’t think it’s as negative as you’re making it.

You’re agreeing with my wife, not me. I can go either way, but I see this as a negative moment-- his life was wasted.

I don’t think that’s the significance of the last scene at all. It’s a Hallmark moment of typically tear-jerking proportion in which I think he appreciates the difference he’s made to Ngudu.

I’m calling this another Wet Hot American Summer Chaise Lounge Moment. You misinterpret the scene. In realizing what small impact his check for $22 and unintelligible letters have had on a child he doesn’t even know halfway around the world, Schmidt also realizes that he hasn’t made any significant difference to the people in his life for the last 66 years. I don’t know what planet you’re from, but that is fucking depressing.

It’s not as if this is out of left field-- the whole movie lays the groundwork for Schmidt as a man who is completely out of touch with other people. His wife, his daughter, even the way he can’t relate to the random strangers he meets at the RV park.

It’s a dark, dark movie. Frankly, I was expecting more of a comedy, like Election, not this bleak meditation on a wasted life.

This movie was a yawn-fest. Jack was good but the rest of the movie didn’t interest me at all.

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/AboutSchmidt-1117768/

Reviews counted: 134
Fresh: 112 Rotten: 22
Average Rating: 8.2/10

It’s a Hallmark moment of typically tear-jerking proportion in which I think he appreciates the difference he’s made to Ngudu.

My bad for phrasing this poorly. What I mean is that he appreciates how much it means to get outside yourself, to connect, to make a difference, to reach out, whatever. The child’s drawing is a sign of this and the fact that it affects him indicates, to me, that he’s finally learned something. In that sense, I see the ending as a hopeful Hallmark moment.

But, yes, I didn’t mean to imply that he saved the little African boy from a life of poverty. Now go say something asshole-ish so I can stop agreeing with you. Or your wife.

 -Tom

It’s important to realize that this scene comes immediately after the inner monologue detailing, in dry actuary table format, how few years he has left to live. So, in that limited amount of time, who exactly is he going to practice these newly learned skills on? His dead wife? His estranged daughter who can’t even stand to be around him? His best friend who had an affair with his wife? His cliche-spouting coworkers at the job he just retired from? I hate to be the one to break this to you, but gg Schmidt.

Schmidt never truly connected to anyone; to finally realize in the twilight of his life how much he has retroactively lost is profoundly depressing.

It’s important to realize that this scene comes immediately after the inner monologue detailing, in dry actuary table format, how few years he has left to live.

Yeah, all movies about old people are supposed to be really depressing, since it’s a given those old people are going to die soon.

 -Tom

I just wished they would get progressively better looking as they got closer to death, like Ali MacGraw in Love Story.

Point being, you can’t repair 66 years of damage.

Did you notice the cattle truck that was being hosed out near the funeral? And the cattle truck that pulls up alongside Schmidt on his cross-country journey to Denver? When you’ve lived your entire life in an emotional cage, maybe it’s better not to experience a brief moment of freedom near the end.

What I liked most about this movie, to take a phrase from Gordon Cameron, is that the text and the subtext were both so rich.