Aneesh Chaganty

Movie #143 About Schmidt

In Uncategorized on February 20, 2011 at 6:56 AM

Movie #143 About Schmidt

(2002, US, d. Alexander Payne)

This movie made me lose faith in America – rather an American way of life. I’ve always had a certain strong hatred towards an aspect of American life and this film finally put the right words in my mouth. Here, Alexander Payne poetically brings to the screen a critique of the “American Formality”. Every piece of dialogue here is manufactured. Every character is manufactured. Every action is manufactured. It’s no wonder then why Warren Schmidt (played by Jack Nicholson) is a sad, sad old man who feels as if he’s never accomplished anything worthwhile in his life; never experienced anything real. At the opening of the film, he is retiring from his job, being replaced by a young hotshot. The hotshot’s speech is manufactured to a tee. The relationship between Warren and his daughter on the eve of her wedding is so manufactured it hurts. Even the relationship between Warren and his sponsored African child who he never meets is manufactured. Jim Taylor and Alexander Payne paint a picture of the ultimate American tragedy: the deconstruction of the American relationship. Not created by dramatic encounters or chance events, it is rather deconstructed by a lack of it. Why are we sad? Why do lonely people feel miserable? About Schmidt attempts to answer that question: it’s not that people don’t care, it’s that we are programmed and taught to care the totally wrong way. And we are taught to respond to that faux care in the totally wrong way. And everybody goes through their life without having learned anything, and without having felt something. Thrown in this mess is Jack Nicholson, who manages to make a pathetic old man sympathetic. On paper, it would seem as if his character had no soul – no force but a loss of feeling. But Nicholson puts a loveability in this guy – something I don’t think we would have seen from anyone else. It’s hard to care for a meaningless person, because at the end of the day, Schmidt is one of those people. But Nicholson makes him unique. And what Payne as a director does beautifully is photograph America in contrast with his thematic content. Instead of picturing America as a bleak place, he photographs it with a sense of wonder and a sense of intimidating marvel. It is not a place that is messed up, it is a place where we have  messed up. Not totally, but in the way we sometimes behave. It makes me sad to feel this way but as much as I love the American way of life, it is flawed. But, as Payne would depict, there is obviously hope.

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