Review Date: December 12, 2002
Director: Alexander Payne
Writer: Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
Producers: Harry Gittes, Michael Besman
A 66-year old insurance man retires to a life at home with his wife and their new Winnebago, only to find that he doesn't really know who he is anymore, or if his life meant anything. Soon thereafter, his wife suddenly passes away, and he's left to wonder even more. That's until the day that he decides to get into his monster trailer and head out to his daughter's wedding to a nincompoop. Self-discovery ensues.
Depressing (but in a good way?). If you're not "down in the dumps" enough about your own life as it is, check out this movie and prepare to dive into a retired man's existential journey to discover the meaning of his life and existence. I got right into this film's groove because as regular readers of mine know by now, I've recently been "going through my own shite". I clicked with much of what this dude was talking about, and actually appreciated his sour outlook on life. The film is definitely not for everyone though. First off, it's an "adult" movie through and through. By that, I don't mean that there's dick and ass around every corner (although, as God is my witness...Kathy Bates has a full body nude scene in this movie-and I ain't kidding, you gotta see it to believe it!), but the subject matter is very dry, very mature and very introspective. And yeah, it moves at a measured pace (read: slow). In fact, the entire film is basically about Jack Nicholson's character and I don't think there's one scene in the entire movie in which Nicholson is not featured (he also delivers a number of doozy lines in the film, like: "Who is this old woman living in my house?"- speaking of his wife of 42 years). Thankfully, Nicholson still manages to charm the pants out of us, even when he's playing a gloomy retiree, and does most of his acting through his eyes, the different looks on his face and his body movements. What did strike me about the film is that I didn't think much of it was hitting me on an emotional level, until its very last scene during which I suddenly broke down like the bitch that I am. It was a strange, overpowering sensation. The kind of thing that I don't truly understand just yet, but just like the movie (which honestly...doesn't have much of a "story" as much as it's about this old guy traveling around), something that needs to be revisited in order to be fully appreciated.
Now before I make it sound like the whole movie is a bore-fest, allow me to point out the many successful patches of satirical humor planted around the film as well (thank God!), the majority of which involve either the characters of Kathy Bates (still got the chills from earlier!) or the completely unrecognizable Dermot Mulroney in a balding mullet and fu-manchu 'stache, both of which should get nominated for Best Supporting Hair Products or something. The film also includes a number of fun secondary characters, like the over-the-top "trailer couple" ("Ahoy!"), the insurance salesman, Howard Hesseman, the best man at the wedding and the groom's stoned-out brother. Having said all that, it's also to note that this isn't a "comedy" either. In fact, it reminded me a lot of CAST AWAY, but without the guy being on an island or being alone (or is he?). Hope Davis was also very good as the stressed-out daughter while Nicholson pulled off the ideal understated, confused and melancholic performance. One thing that did nag at me a bit though was the recurring voice-over. A lot of the film is done via a voice-over by Nicholson himself, and even though it was informative at first, it felt more like a gimmick after a while and could likely have been cut down to give the audience more time to absorb and observe that kind of stuff on their own. I really hate to attach ratings to my movie reviews in the first place, but even more so in cases like this film, in which most of the subtext is generally not unraveled or fully appreciated until the second or third times around. Having said that, I would definitely recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys character dramas, anyone who doesn't mind a slow and somewhat unfocused storyline and of course...anyone who loves Jack Nicholson, who is at the perfect spot in his own life to absorb this part. Enter Schmidt's mind and shuffle along a universal journey of one man's quest for enlightenment.
(c) 2014 Berge Garabedian